Covert Video Surveillance of Parents Suspected of Child Abuse: The British Experience and Alternative Approaches
Bauer, Keith A.
Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 2004; 25(4): 311-327
One million cases of child maltreatment and twelve hundred child deaths due to abuse and neglect occur per year. But since many cases of abuse and neglect remain either unreported or unsubstantiated due to insufficient evidence, the number of children who are abused, neglected, and killed at the hands of family caregivers is probably higher. One approach to combat child abuse in the U.K. has been the employment of hospital-based covert video surveillance (CVS) to monitor parents suspected of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP). The use of CVS, however, raises concerns about voluntary informed consent, research on human subjects, privacy, and the appropriateness of healthcare providers to conduct CVS. More broadly, the use of CVS raises concerns about the ethical life of healthcare institutions and their moral obligations to the families and communities they serve. The U.K. protocol for CVS is examined in light of these concerns. Three alternative CVS protocols and two procedures for selecting a protocol are then proposed for use in the U.S. The paper concludes that any CVS protocol selected for use by hospitals ought to be selected by means of open and democratic processes that permit community input and, subsequently, the possibility of a consensus on the moral status and scope of CVS.
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