Immunization fight between family and state of Kansas going to the federal level

STILWELL, Kan. -- It's a complex issue that starts with a simple problem: should a 2-year-old be vaccinated?

The state of Kansas has legal custody of the 2-year-old, and it says yes. His grandparents, who are also his foster parents, have physical custody, and they say no.

"I care about the environment he's in," said his grandmother, Terri Baker. She went on to describe her grandson. "He's very big for his age, and he likes to eat."

Then she added, "and he's a blessing to us."

Baker and her husband Linus are the toddler's foster parents.

"He has been placed in our physical custody," Linus explained. "So he lives with us.  And so we make the day-to-day decisions. Technically, DCF or KVC have legal custody of him.  So he's in state custody."

His mother, the Bakers' daughter, was in jail for a DUI when she received a letter from the KVC. (KVC works with the state of Kansas and foster parents.) The letter stated the toddler was going to be vaccinated within two weeks.

The child's mother, and the Bakers, don't want that.

"Why do this?" asked Linus. "When he's only in temporary state custody - when eventually, he'll probably go back to a parent?"

"This has to do with parental autonomy," explained Linus, who is also a lawyer. "This has to do with respecting the rights of parents to make their own informed decisions about what happens, about what goes into their child's body. I think it's very reasonable."

So the Bakers filed a federal lawsuit. Linus said he did it on behalf of all the children in his grandson's situation: a child in need of care.

"The idea that parents ought to decide what they want done with their child, as far as being immunized," said the Stilwell resident.  "Call it a body autonomy theory, right to privacy, call it a religious belief about what you put into your body."

Linus Baker maintains the state shouldn't make you - or your child - have a religious exemption to exempt you or your child from immunizations.

Instead, he said, "(give) parents a philosophical way to object beyond religion. I think that ought to be something that ought to be considered."

“While we do not comment on pending litigation, I can provide you with what we believe are the relevant State statutes at this time: KSA 38-2217 (3) and (D), and K.S.A 72-5209,” said Theresa Freed, the Communications Director for the Kansas Department of Children and Families (DCF).

She said the department does not know, nor keep track, of how many other incidents like this – where foster parents fight vaccinations – have occurred.

Regarding the Baker care:  “We are reviewing this matter.” Jenny Kutz, the Director of Communications for KVC Health Systems, and deferred to Freed at DCF.

The Bakers say they are against vaccinations due to the chemicals in them.  Click this link to see what the CDC says about vaccine additives.