It is understandable that the parents of 4-year-old leukemia patient Noah McAdams would find comfort in the support they have found on social media in the wake of losing custody of their son. While the state was right to intervene to ensure Noah received lifesaving care, nobody can truly walk in another person’s shoes. That’s why it’s important to distinguish the pain of a broken family from the larger public interest in protecting a helpless child.
As the Tampa Bay Times’ Anastasia Dawson reported, the parents have received considerable support on social media in the days since another courtroom defeat in their ongoing custody battle. Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Thomas Palermo ruled that returning parental rights to father Joshua McAdams, 28, and mother Taylor Bland-Ball, 22, would place Noah in “imminent risk of neglect.” For six months they have fought a losing battle to stop their son from undergoing chemotherapy treatments, preferring instead to seek alternative remedies for his acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
People from across the globe have offered their support in posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. By Tuesday afternoon, a Go Fund Me campaign had raised nearly $12,000, while 3,300 people had signed an online petition calling for the judge’s removal.
This outpouring is impressive in numbers, but its meaning is anybody’s guess. People could be expressing sympathy for the family, disdain for mainstream medicine, contempt for the courts or all of the above. While that may give the family strength, it’s worth remembering that the state’s intervention was hardly a routine, knee-jerk or isolated decision. The parents lost custody in April after they left the state in pursuit of alternative medical treatments. McAdams and Bland-Ball had refused additional chemotherapy for Noah in hopes of trying natural remedies. In May, a Hillsborough circuit judge ordered that Noah’s chemotherapy resume, while a separate Hillsborough circuit judge granted custody of Noah to his maternal grandparents. His parents were allowed supervised visitation rights.
In an Instagram post after the latest court loss, Bland-Ball vowed that “the battle has just begun," adding: “I will appeal on every angle.” It’s apparent the wrenching details and raw emotion of this case will continue to play out not only in court, but online and in real-time, as Noah continues the fight of his life, as the state continues to balance the competing interests for custody and as everyone grapples with the right time and conditions for reuniting the family. There is no easy guidebook here. The parents have a path for reclaiming their custodial rights. The state has an overwhelming responsibility to care for this child in a manner that offers the best chance for wellness. The front lines in this battle may being playing out on social media, but that’s not the relevant or appropriate venue when a child’s life is at stake and denying him the appropriate care is the equivalent of child abuse. Until all involved agree that the child’s interests come first, Noah is exactly where he should be.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.