Analysis: Parker Jensen and the state as our parent

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not those of St. George News.

OPINION – It’s been 9 years since the Parker Jensen case gave us a chilling example of what happens when parental rights collide with the power of the state.

Parker, a then 12-year-old boy living in Sandy, Utah, was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma after a tiny growth was removed from beneath his tongue. His physician recommended that Parker be placed on chemotherapy immediately or face virtually no chance of surviving the cancer.

Upon learning that chemotherapy that would likely leave their son sterile—if he survived at all, Daren and Barbara Jensen insisted on getting more opinions and exploring other alternatives. Their doctor insisted that they begin treatment immediately or he would be forced to contact the Division of Child and Family Services to have Parker removed from their custody and forced to undergo chemo.

Parker’s parents refused to submit and a warrant was issued for their arrest following a hearing by a state juvenile judge who ordered Parker placed in state custody. By this time, the Jensens had moved to Idaho with Parker and were slapped with an additional charge of kidnapping their own son to avoid the state ordered chemotherapy. State authorities accused Parker’s parents of being abusive and medically neglectful. News stories portrayed the Jensens as stubborn and suspicious for resisting what the medical and legal bureaucracies were demanding of them.

Facing the threat of prison sentences, and loss of their parental rights, it would have been understandable for Parker’s parents to simply surrender to the state’s demands and acknowledge that it was a battle they could never win. But win they did.

Ultimately the state blinked in the face of rising public outrage over the issue of parental rights and the apparent callousness with which the state was seeking to force its will onto the Jensens. The charges were dropped, though not before the Jensens were sternly admonished that the consequences of their choice would be solely upon their shoulders.

With that warning, the state washed its hands of the mess it had created, leaving the Jensen family to begin rebuilding their lives.

Today, Parker Jensen is a perfectly healthy 21-year-old man. He shows no sign of the illness and is by all accounts a happy, productive member of society. Apologists for the state and DCFS have few kind words for Parker’s parents, but must concede that for a boy who was supposed to be dead within weeks if not forced to undergo chemo, he is living proof as to who was right and who was wrong.

Daren and Barbara Jensen sued the University of Utah doctors and the state for their actions, claiming that their family had been harmed by threats of arrest, loss of employment, media scrutiny, and public ridicule. But last year the Utah Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the doctors and social workers could not be sued in this case. The Court stated that the basis for this decision was that “the defendants’ conduct was motivated by a legitimate concern for Parker’s life.”

The justification offered by the Court appears to be based in the legal doctrine of parens patriae in which the state is allowed to intervene as the parent when a child’s actual parents, guardians or caretakers are either abusive or neglectful. In the case of Parker Jensen, his parents were not guilty of either of these offenses. They merely refused to acquiesce to the directives of bureaucrats and experts who claimed to know what was best for the boy.

But the state was wrong and though Parker was never in danger, his family was unjustifiably put through the wringer. The lesson here is that the state is not infallible and great care should be taken to protect the rights of the family from the predation of official busybodies.

Those who work within the child protective system often have the best of intentions and their efforts are sadly necessary at times within our society. But unchecked powers, even in the hands of those with the best of intentions, are a certain recipe for suffering and abuse that is no less real just because it occurs at the hands of the state.

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Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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  • Pheo May 14, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    I have been following this story closely and this is the first I’ve ever heard of anyone telling the parents that Parker would die without chemotherapy, let alone die in weeks. I’m sure that they told him that his risk of death or recurrence would be higher without chemotherapy. And just because Parker is thankfully doing so well doesn’t mean the doctors were wrong any more than I’d be wrong when you roll a die and get six after I told you there was only a 1/6 chance of getting six.

    The one myth that is usually perpetrated (more through ignorance rather than anything) is that Parker Jensen was never treated for his cancer. Parker did receive treatment: the tumor was surgically removed. As in most cancers, surgical treatment will be curative in many if not most cases if the tumor is completely excised. The point of chemotherapy is to reduce the risk of recurrence or metastasis. In many cases of breast cancer, surgery is curative most of the time, which chemo added to provide a survival benefit of 10 or 20 percent. If you want to explore the benefits of added chemotherapy, you can refer to a website called

    The clumsy and heavy handed way the authorities dealt with this case is definitely worth talking about, but I hope that we can avoid perpetuating falsities and creating new ones.

  • Clyde April 29, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    The ones who stand to gain are the ones who are perpetuating falsities against Natural Families. The State of Utah does not recognize any Parental Rights, Human Rights, Constitutional Rights or Boundaries when they are Agenda 21 driven. They willfully, knowingly and intentionally Democided (See US Code TITLE 18:Sec 1091) my family because we were poor. They will lie, murder, perjure themselves all in “The best interest of the child.” They will always be murderer’s, liars and thieves in my eyes, and have lost all legitimacy to rule over any free American as far as I’m concerned. I blogged about our experience at under the heading of “The Anatomy of Collective Crime in Our Society.”
    There is nothing the Government can say or do to persuade me that they are anything but self serving narcissistic tyrants posing as “Public Servants.”

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