Headline fail of the week: ‘White woman accused of forcing black daughter into surgery, treatments’

Sophie Hartman, a 31-year-old woman from Washington state, is being accused of “medical child abuse” for allegedly forcing her adopted daughter, 6, to undergo a staggering number of unnecessary medical treatments.

Unfortunately, because Hartman is white and the young girl is black, media has grasped onto the racial disparity; perhaps to sensationalize the story further.

Screenshot: Twitter

Seattle Children’s Hospital director Dr. Rebecca Wiester argues that the motivation for the actions isn’t nearly as important as the overall effect of the behavior. “It is not necessary to know the possible motivation of a caregiver, only the outcome of the behavior,” she wrote in a letter that would eventually spark an investigation from the Department of Children and Youth.

Hartman allegedly forced the child to endure a number of medically unnecessary surgeries as well as 470 medical treatments. They include making the child wear leg braces, surgically installing a feeding tube, as well as a tube for flushing the intestines. She was charged when the child had to undergo a two-week observation.

In the charging document filed on May 24, it was made clear that none of the treatments or surgeries were prompted by any ailment or diagnosis. In fact, it argues that the child is “a healthy young 6-year-old who would continue to benefit from de-escalation of medical support,” as well as a more normal childhood.

Despite being told that her child did not need leg braces or a wheelchair, Hartman allegedly continued to force her to use them. She even reportedly used money from a fundraiser to purchase a wheelchair-accessible vehicle. Perhaps even scarier is the claim that she also said the child “could leave us at any time,” and allegedly searched for funeral songs online.

The facts of the case are horrible enough as they are presented, but the media went the extra step of highlighting that the child is black, and the mother (and alleged abuser) is white. This led to a torrent of criticism on social media, as people made the case that this story isn’t about race, but a deeply troubled woman who has no business caring for a child: (** Language warning)

It didn’t take long for the New York Post to backtrack on the main focus of the article, updating the headline to read “Mother accused of forcing adopted daughter into surgery, treatments”.

Screengrab: New York Post

In a YouTube video titled “Make-A-Wish Interview,” a woman believed to be Hartman details how she came to obtain custody of a young child who she claims suffered from Alternating Hemiplegia of Childhood, a rare neurological disorder. She claims that the child can endure a number of symptoms as the result of this alleged diagnosis, including paralysis, inability to speak, and seizures.


This led to the child receiving a wish from the Make-A-Wish Foundation in 2019. When contacted about the story, they issued a brief statement of support for the child:

“We are deeply saddened and dismayed to learn about the alleged child abuse case involving one of our former wish families. As a child-centered nonprofit, the health and well-being of our wish children is always of paramount concern to us. We work very closely with medical professionals throughout the wish process – from approving wish paperwork to ensure the child is eligible for our program, to approving the wish itself so it is safe and appropriate given the child’s medical diagnosis. This is a very serious allegation and any threat to the wellbeing of a child is not in alignment with the child-centered focus of our mission. We hope this matter is quickly remedied in the best interest of the child.”

Hartman’s attorneys maintain their client’s innocence, saying the diagnosis of Alternating Hemiplegia of Childhood is “legitimate, and is based on a substantial record beyond the reports and information provided by Ms. Hartman.” 


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