Why Was a 3-Year-Old in South Dakota Forcibly Catheterized as He Screamed in Pain?

Imagine the Department of Social Services threatens to remove your child from your custody unless you agree to have his urine collected. Under duress, you consent— only to watch hospital staff pin your three-year-old down and forcibly catheterize him as he screams in pain. Two days later, he is still in pain. You take him back to the hospital, where he is diagnosed with a staph infection in his penis.

This is not a hypothetical situation. One day this past winter, police and officials from the Department of Social Services (DSS) in Pierre, South Dakota, arrived at a home to arrest a man on suspicion of a probation violation. Because he tested positive for drugs, his girlfriend was told by DSS that her children would be removed from the home if she did not consent to having their urine tested. Because of that threat, she agreed to the test, but since her youngest child is not toilet-trained, DSS forced him to undergo the catheterization.

The distraught mother contacted the ACLU, and we were shocked by her story. It’s hard to imagine circumstances that would lead child welfare officials to think it was a good idea to catheterize a 3-year-old, subjecting a vulnerable child to trauma and injury, because of an investigation into potential drug use by an adult. Anyone who has spent any time around young children knows there certainly are other methods available to collect a sample from the child — like, for example, giving the child water or juice and waiting an hour. Or, DSS could have rightly concluded that the risk to the very child they were purporting to protect was just not worth it.

This incident raises a multitude of practical, moral, and constitutional questions. Collecting bodily fluids from a toddler to gather evidence against an adult member of the household is simply unreasonable. Period. Second, catheterization of anyone — adults and children alike — is an incredibly invasive procedure that should only be employed when absolutely necessary. Additionally, the compelled production of bodily fluids is a search under the Fourth Amendment, which, absent consent, requires a warrant supported by probable cause. In this case, the DSS conducted the search without a warrant, without legal justification, and without judicial oversight. (To be clear, when a parent “consents” to the collection of her children’s bodily fluids under the threat of losing her children, that consent is invalid.)

The ACLU of South Dakota has written to DSS to demand that they stop catheterizing children and provide explanations. We want to know why this search was conducted, why the catheterization was permitted, and who made the decision to have this child tested. Further, we have asked the DSS to release any written policies regarding searches of children and catheterization.

Forcibly catheterizing anyone — let alone a 3-year-old — to collect evidence is barbaric at worst and unconstitutional at best. No child, let alone one suspected of being a victim of abuse or neglect, should be subjected to such trauma, indignity, and abuse.

We want answers. We have no intention of letting DSS get away with this barbaric practice without accountability.

This post has been edited to clarify that it was DSS, not the police, that ordered the catheterization.

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Robbert plink

Let's face it. It is prety well established that male infants in the US don't have any rights to speak of. Think of the number of them that have thier genitals forcibly mutilated shortly after birth. So it is not outrageous at all taking into acount national ethics and culture.

Anonymous

Charge the doctors.

Pete Keay

As someone who has undergone a number of medical procedures that involve catheterization I shudder to think of the misery that poor child endured. I agree with the thought that a glass of juice would have provided enough urine for testing, and his is overkill on an in sane level.

Anonymous

This was very traumatizing to the child and should be unlawful.

Anonymous

This was very traumatizing to the child and should be unlawful.

Donna Slocum

Searching for the words to describe my anger for what they did to this child! I can only wish that I was able to scream and yell at those asshats that did this and then be the one able to put them all in jail for violating this child's civil rights and assault on a minor and any other charge that can be brought against them!!!

Anonymous

This makes no sense on any level. I'm a child abuse pediatrician and there is no way this would have occurred if pediatricians were involved in an asymptomatic child. There's obtaining urine with a bag or even hair drug testing, rather than cathing. Even oral/saliva swabs could be considered if available.

Robbert plink

Come on what do you mean there is no way a pediatrician would do this on an asymptomatic child. Americans pediatricians amputate the healthy prepuse (foreskin) on healthy asymptomatic children all the time. There is simply a lack of ethical acount ability in the medical.profesion.

Lalalaura

I'm 42 but as a child of about 7 I began having repeated urinary tract infections. I'm talking for months. I went through some horrid medical testing called a voidogram. I was catheterized, then fluid pushed into my bladder and then x-rayed while I was basically told to urinate while laying down. The cath was painful. I cried and cried. My mother was not allowed to be with me and the nurses were just flat out mean. It wasn't a childrens hospital and there was no special treatment because I was young. I'm still traumatized to this day. I had other tests also at the same hospital and a cystoscopy. I've had infections most of my life and I have to be forced to go get treatment because I'm scared I will be forced to be cathed. I've worked in the medical field my whole adult life. One of my children was ill and they needed a specimen when he was a toddler. I refused to let them cath him for a specimen. They used a collection bag instead. The nurses (guess what-same hospital) were ticked that instead of straight catching him and moving on with their lives they have to wait about 30 minutes for a specimen. No one is ever gonna do to my children what traumatized me so much. This is absurd abuse of power not to mention irrelevant. I would assume a blood test would have been better or even a saliva test would be more accurate. It's ridiculous to put a child through that and then to get an infection! I'd be sueing!

Anonymous

I'm five years older than you and had an uncannily similar experience with a cystoscopy. If only the internet was a safe space to share my name I would so we could commiserate. Nobody should have hurt this little boy like this.

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