S.C. case looks on child obesity as child abuse. But is it?
By Ron Barnett, USA TODAY
Jerri Gray was doing all she could to help her son lose weight, her attorney says. But something had gone terribly wrong for the boy to hit the 555-pound mark by age 14.
Authorities in South Carolina say that what went wrong was Gray's care and feeding of her son, Alexander Draper. Gray, 49, of Travelers Rest, S.C., was arrested in June and charged with criminal neglect. Alexander is now in foster care.
The case has attracted national attention. With childhood obesity on the rise across the USA, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gray's attorney says it could open the door to more criminal action against parents whose children have become dangerously overweight.
"If she's found guilty on those criminal charges, you have set a precedent that opens Pandora's box," Grant Varner says. "Where do you go next?"
State courts in Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, New Mexico, Indiana and California have grappled with the question in recent years, according to a 2008 report published by the Child Welfare League of America.
In all of those cases, except the one in California, courts expanded their state's legal definition of medical neglect to include morbid obesity and ruled that the children were victims of neglect, the report says. Criminal charges were filed only in the California and Indiana cases, but the parents weren't sentenced to jail time in either.