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SAN DIEGO (LifeSiteNews) — A California family is suing Rady Children’s Hospital for secretly videotaping their daughter’s hospital room for evidence of abuse that was never found in a disturbing case with ramifications for both parental and privacy rights.

KPBS reported that after years of seeking answers for an increasingly debilitating array of broken bones, dislocated joints, and chronic pain that plagued their daughter Madison for much of her youth, Bill Meyer and Dana Gascay agreed to transfer her to Rady in 2019 for round-the-clock care for what was diagnosed as hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a genetic connective tissue disorder, and later complex regional pain syndrome.

In December 2018, shortly before the transfer, San Diego County’s child abuse hotline received an anonymous call alleging abuse by Madison’s mother, including tampering with her IV pump. Interviews with the family and medical staff found that Gascay butted heads with some nurses, but there was no evidence of abuse.

The original investigator, Kayla Valenzuela, closed the case, but Dr. Shalon Nienow, Rady’s division director of child abuse pediatrics, suspected Munchausen by proxy, a psychological disorder that entails harming others for attention. 

Nienow, who is also the clinical director of Child Abuse Pediatrics at UC San Diego School of Medicine and a leading official with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Child Abuse & Neglect, recommended placing Madison in a room with hidden video surveillance equipment, which ran for 38 days, according to the lawsuit, capturing Madison in humiliating and vulnerable intimate moments where she had to be helped with basic functions such as dressing and cleaning due to her condition, as well as placement of a urinary catheter. 

“To have that video go on, and on, and on for 38 days… it’s gross, and it’s inhuman,” her mother said. The complaint maintains that the video found “not even one snippet” of abuse.

The complaint further alleges that Nienow directed hospital child protection team member Elizabeth Reese to call in a second complaint to the abuse hotline, this time alleging that Madison was intentionally dislocating her shoulder and faking things like seizures and loss of eyesight. Reese denies participation in the surveillance, but in response to the call, the county put Valenzuela back on the case.

Nienow then made a report urging that the girl’s parents be “immediately removed” to save her life, with which Valenzuela successfully petitioned a judge to put Madison in protective custody.

On March 7, 2019, the hospital informed the parents that their custody of their daughter had been revoked, leaving them “absolutely stunned” in Bill Meyer’s words.

In February 2020, after almost a year of only being able to see their daughter in twice-weekly supervised visits, the parents won back custody of Madison. But the ordeal “ruined our family — tore us apart,” Gascay said. “We’re doing our best to get our family back together. We’re all in therapy.”

“On the face of it, it’s both unethical and unnecessary,” University of Arkansas-Little Rock law professor Michael Flannery said of the surveillance, arguing that the fact that it went on so long was itself an indicator that it found no evidence of abuse. “It struck me as just violative of the family’s Fourth Amendment right to privacy.”

The family’s complaint cites multiple doctors’ attestations to Valenzuela that they saw no signs of abuse, including an explanation by one of her specialists about how Ehlers-Danlos syndrome could be mistaken for Munchausen by proxy. It also quotes San Diego County Superior Court Commissioner Michael J. Imhoff’s assessment that Rady’s conduct was “unbelievable” and an “insensitive invasion of privacy.”

“I don’t want this to happen to another innocent family,” Gascay said of the family’s legal battle. “This is unconscionable.”

Last year, former Rady nurse Tawny Buettner accused the hospital of removing her from bedsides for being unvaccinated for COVID-19 despite her diligence in regular testing and wearing protective equipment while not testing vaccinated employees for COVID infection.