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The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly

Volume 19, Issue 1, Spring 2019

Jessica M. Meister Berger, MD
Pages 47-54

Parental Obligation and Medical Neglect in Childhood Obesity

Despite unprecedented medical advancements and the near eradi­cation of many serious diseases, there are growing epidemics of preventable illness brought about in part by the overemphasis on individual autonomy and the neglect of obligations to others. Insofar as these diseases develop because of individual choice, this permissiveness hampers the moral analysis of growing epidemics like childhood obesity. While society has contributed to its rapid progression, childhood obesity finds its origins in lifestyle choices implemented at home. Consequently, parents have an unparalleled duty to prevent and correct obesity and unhealthy lifestyles in their children. Failure to do so undoubtedly violates a parent’s duty and suggests medical neglect. However, our current understanding of medical neglect is too narrow to be applicable to chronic, preventable illnesses. Relevant principles of tort law may broaden our understanding of neglect to better reflect the nature of parental and societal liability in preventable illnesses.

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