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An Arizona family is trapped in a waking nightmare this Spring as they fight to regain custody of their three children. The children, who were well cared for in a stable family that had no history of any sort of abuse, neglect or legal trouble, were ripped from their parents’ arms in the middle of the night after police in full body armor beat down the door and removed them from their home at gunpoint. The children were then bounced through the foster care system for weeks before finally being placed in their grandparents’ home, while their frantic parents jump through hoops to regain custody of their own children.

All over a harmless fever…that, as fevers in toddlers tend to do, disappeared on its own before the police arrived at DCS’s request for “emergency” removal.

What on earth happened here?

The terribly traumatic events that unfolded began with a simple fever—a very common complaint in a toddler, as any seasoned parent knows. Fever and lethargy are the hallmarks of every childhood disease from the common cold to strep throat, ear infections, and just about any other virus that makes its way through day care centers and elementary schools. That’s how we all develop our immune systems—getting sick as toddlers.

But when the Chandler, Arizona mother took her son to a pediatrician after his fever rose over 100 degrees, things went south quickly.

As soon as the doctor heard that the boy had not been vaccinated, the recommendation was made that he be taken to the emergency room immediately because he was “at risk of meningitis.” At its highest, the rate of contracting the type of meningitis that is vaccinated against was just 1.5 people out of every 100,000—which makes it a rare disease that certainly shouldn’t be the first thing a physician would suspect when presented with a sleepy, feverish toddler.

By the time they’d started home, the boy was already feeling better…laughing and playing. His mother took his temperature and discovered that it had gone down to nearly normal, and she decided against taking the boy to the hospital. A perfectly reasonable parenting decision that any parent of three would make, considering that the boy was feeling better and her other two children also had a virus. Taking a child with a mild illness to ER is traumatic and expensive, and no parent wants to go through that unless it’s totally warranted.

As it turned out, things were about to get a lot more traumatic.

The doctor reported to DCS that his recommendation had not been followed and a judge signed an order that allowed for the immediate, forcible removal of the children. After midnight, a SWAT team broke down the family’s door and removed all three children—who had been peacefully sleeping off the virus they were fighting but were otherwise perfectly fine.

As his mother had reported, the baby’s temperature was fine by the time officials took him into custody.

Still, the children were removed from their home and the parents were put on a “reunification plan” that they must follow in order to get their children back. The children spent weeks living in strangers’ homes before finally being placed with their grandparents—an experience that is likely to lead to long-term emotional issues as they process what amounts to being kidnapped at gunpoint and separated from their parents. Backed into a corner, the couple is afraid to speak to the press because doing so might result in retaliation that could delay or even prevent the reunification of their family.

There was no reason to believe that a toddler with a fever might have a deadly disease simply because he was not vaccinated for it. There was no reason for the child to be seen in the ER and his parents’ right to decide what is best for their child has been completely ignored in the “anti-vaxxer” witch hunt that ensued. The state’s actions were unwarranted and punitive, causing needless harm and trauma to an entire family that will scar them for the rest of their lives.

Now that the state has custody of the children, they will undoubtedly be vaccinated against their parents’ will before being returned to their home.

The nightmare that is unfolding in Arizona should be seen as a warning across the nation. Unless we stand up for parents’ rights and for the rights of every individual to make their own medical decisions, what has happened to this toddler and his family could become a common occurrence. Between this case and the mandated vaccination and school closures happening in New York, our right to choose has never been more under attack. 

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