The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the Department of Social Services in South Dakota last week demanding they stop catheterizing children in order to conduct warrantless drug tests, carried out by the department with the assistance of police and hospital staff.
They’re also requesting the department’s written policy regarding the catheterization and searches of children.
And they’re demanding for an explanation after Kirsten Hunter, the mother of a 3-year-old boy in South Dakota, contacted them about her son, Aksel, who was injured physically and emotionally after being forcibly catheterized late February.
South Dakota DSS, commonly called CPS, didn’t bother getting a warrant to catheterize little Aksel.
But that didn’t matter to hospital employees at Avera St. Mary’s Hospital, who held him down while nurses shoved a catheter tube into the 3-year-old’s penis.
Hunter and her son wound up the hospital after Pierre police showed up at her home on February 23 with Child Protection Services employees.
Her boyfriend had failed his probation urinalysis, so CPS determined they wanted to drug test Hunter’s two children.
When they arrived at her home, a social services employee told Hunter that if her children could not produce urine for drug tests, they would be removed from her custody.
Under duress, Hunter consented to the search, but she wasn’t aware a catheter would be used.
The next day, Hunter arrived at Avera Health where she and her 5-year-old daughter provided samples at the request of social services employees. But Aksel, who was not pottie-trained at the time, was not able to produce a urine sample.
At the request of social services, Aksel was held down and forcibly catheterized by staff, which gave the boy a staph infection.
“They just shoved it right up there, and he screamed so bad,” Hunter told the ArgusLeader.
“He’s still dealing with a staph infection, and we are still giving him medication.”
“[T]he process runs afoul of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unlawful search and seizure where there are other less intrusive means available to gather the information,” wrote Heather Smith, Executive Director of the ACLU of South Dakota.
“Any child, let alone those suspected of being victims of abuse or neglect, should not be subjected to the additional trauma, indignity, and abuse of catheterization.”
Avera Health would not comment on the matter and has denied repeated interview requests.
Instead, they issued a two-sentence response.
“Avera has long recommended that care never be forced on anyone. However, the facts of any given circumstance dictates how some might respond to a directive from law enforcement or a judge,” spokesman Jay Gravholt wrote to USA Today.
In contrast, the Sanford Health Hospital in South Dakota issued a statement condemning the practice.
“At Sanford, it is not only our experience, but also our philosophy, that when we work with a patient, we are able to secure the sample without force,” Cindy Morrison, Sanford’s chief marketing officer, wrote.
The ACLU’s letter sent on March 31 is included below.