The government should not replace parents

Matt White

Imagine what would happen if your state decided orphans were expendable and then decided to horribly and tragically alter their lives.

In Iowa in the 1930s during something called “The Monster Study,” this is exactly what happened: Extremely vulnerable children were reduced to little more than lab rats in experiments designed to understand what makes people stutter.

According to MSNBC, “Over a six-month period, Dr. Wendell Johnson, a nationally renowned pioneer in the field of speech pathology, and his staff tested his theory on 22 children who were in the care of the state-run Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home. Some were subjected to steady harassment, badgering and other negative therapy in an attempt to get them to stutter; the rest served as a control group.

Johnson, of the University of Iowa, was interested in determining whether stuttering was a learned behavioral trait or whether it was a genetic trait, and for his interest 22 children suffered “lifelong psychological and emotional scares.”

Recently, six of the children in the study won a $925,000 lawsuit against the state of Iowa, down from the $13.5 million they originally sought. Of course, because the state and the university kept the study a secret for decades (the orphans didn’t even learn the truth about the study until 2001 when the San Jose Mercury News published an investigative story), they weren’t in the position for a decades-long legal battle.

All moral people should be outraged about how the orphans were treated by a state government entrusted with their safety, but it shouldn’t stop there. Serious questions need to be raised about how it was possible for the Iowa state government to act against the basic rights of children and how this sort of thing can be prevented in the future.

It’s probably unavoidable for the government to assume some responsibility in taking care of orphans when relatives are unable or unwilling to step in and care for them, but it does bring to light a serious problem: When you depend upon the government to care for you, you have to accept the sort of care you’re given.

Government programs — even ones designed to protect orphans — are subject to abuse, failure and corruption. All it takes is for citizens to swap their skepticism of the government for the comfort of being in the government’s care. It’s important to remember the government isn’t your father or your mother and, more than likely, doesn’t have your best interests at heart.

The orphans didn’t really have much of a choice about being dependent upon the government, and that’s what makes their case so horrible. But, those of us who do have a choice need to remain as self-sufficient as possible.

After all, once you decide to let the government begin making decisions for you, when will it quit?

Matthew White is a senior magazine journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].