Anti-Anti-Vax Drama

Brooks Bryce and Sarah Beck live in Phoenix with their three kids. Ms. Beck took their youngest, a two-year old boy, to a clinic where he registered a temperature over 100 degrees. Upon learning that the boy was lethargic and unvaccinated, the doctor told Ms. Beck to take him to an emergency room. Ms. Beck declined, explaining later:

“I called the doctor back and said ‘Hey, I’m not sure how you got this 105 reading, my son’s acting fine,’” Ms. Beck told a local TV station. “‘This doesn’t really seem like a medical emergency.’”

With Guns Drawn, Officers Raided Home to Get Unvaccinated, Feverish Child

The doctor was concerned that her directive was not being followed and called the Arizona Department of Child Safety, setting in motion a chain of events that led to the Chandler Police Department breaking down the family’s door at 1am with guns drawn. The boy was taken to a hospital and found to have a respiratory illness. Both parents were charged with child abuse.

The Chandler Police Department released video of the entire encounter, including multiple knocks on the door and calls to the household before making a forced entry. Overall all parties appeared to act reasonably under the circumstances. The Chandler Police Department was reasonably patient and attempted to deescalate. They were acting under a court order. They didn’t charge into the house as soon as they breached the door. And Mr. Bryce himself was unfailingly polite and non-aggressive when talking to the officers, although he was firm in his conviction that his child was fine and he did not want the police to bother him any more.

So how did we get to a situation where a bunch of officers break down a door in the middle of the night to take a child with what sounds like a mild respiratory illness to the hospital? That is an insane and disturbing result. Two reasons it seems:

  • The child was unvaccinated. Did that bias the doctor’s assessment of whether the parents had the judgment necessary to take care of their son? Almost certainly. But should it have?
  • Health care costs. Listening to the video I was stunned to hear the entirely rational explanation by Mr. Bryce for not wanting to take their son to an emergency room: they didn’t want to incur thousands of dollars in fees when they fundamentally believed their son was ok, an assessment apparently later shown to be accurate.

We are setting people up to fail if we impose standards, enforced by potential violence, without providing the support necessary to meet those standards. This story makes me deeply uncomfortable.