Parents Blackmailed By Doctor: Consent To Vaccine Or We Take Your Newborn


Aliea Bidwell and Ben Gray were as excited as any other couple when their baby boy was born. Vaccine blackmail was the furthest thought from their minds. But because a pediatrician on call didn’t like their decision to refuse a vaccine, she threatened to kidnap their newborn (through legal channels, of course), if they did not consent on day one to something they neither wanted nor felt was worth the risks. It was vaccine blackmail. They were given no choice.

Aliea and Ben are certainly not the first parents to refuse vaccines, and the hospital staff showed no indication of any problem with honoring their request, until Dr. Terry M. Bierd, MD, staff pediatrician at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham, came in. It was the hepatitis B vaccine that was the problem. She told baby Aaron’s family that if they did not allow her to give the hepatitis B vaccine, she would call security and DHR (Alabama’s Child Protective Services). The baby would be given the vaccine anyway, at 12 hours old, and then be taken into state custody.

Because it was a Friday evening, Dr. Bierd told Aliea and Ben that they would have to figure out how to get their baby back after the weekend. However, it is not illegal to refuse vaccines in Alabama, as well as most other states.

Incidentally, the Hepatitis B vaccine is not even required by law in Alabama for admission to day care or school, and certainly not required by law for newborns.

Whether one is pro- or anti-vaccines, most Americans support the right of parents to make choices for their children. Some parents who are fully supportive of vaccines may choose to refuse a particular vaccine, and the Hepatitis B vaccine is one of the more commonly refused. Vaccine blackmail by a doctor, with the threat of state-sanctioned kidnapping, is a violation of basic American liberties, according to this Alabama couple.

After admission to the hospital toward the end of her short labor, Aliea Bidwell birthed her firstborn child naturally. Aaron was born on Friday morning, March 14, at 9:26 am, weighing 7 lbs, 11 oz. His Apgar scores were 9 and 9, at one and five minutes respectively – the picture of health. He was successfully breastfeeding within the first hour after birth. Grandparents Vesta and Ralph Bidwell were present with the happy new family and celebrated the arrival of their first grandchild.

Just a few hours later, their world imploded. Their “choice” was to submit to something that both generations were opposed to on religious and philosophical grounds, or have their newest member of the family be taken in a doctor-sanctioned kidnapping. They saw it as nothing less than vaccine blackmail.

Upon admission to the hospital, Bidwell told the staff that she did not want the newborn vaccines. No one present indicated any problem with her request. Legally, parents can refuse vaccines in Alabama on religious or medical grounds. But that didn’t stop Dr. Bierd from lying to the family, telling them that it was law that the baby receive the hepatitis B vaccine. She later back-pedaled and told them it wasn’t law, after the family had contacted an off-duty judge friend, who asked what statute that was. (It wasn’t.) But she didn’t back down on her blackmail threats.

Child Protective Services Threatens a Medical Cannabis Activist

Cannabis could save her epileptic son, but it's illegal in FL, so they've never tried it.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ladybud Magazine

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ladybud Magazine

Renee Petro has already been living a parent’s worst nightmare for years: her 12-year-old son  Branden suffers from a rare form of pediatric epilepsy called FIRES, which causes uncontrolled seizures that can be fatal. On Tuesday, a new nightmare began for Renee, when Florida Child Protective Services showed up at her home to investigate an anonymous tip that Renee was not administering Branden’s prescription anti-seizure medication and was instead treating him with cannabis extract.

“I’ve never used cannabis medicine for Branden,” said Renee. “I know fully well that cannabis would help him, but because I live in an 'illegal' state we have never tried it. I have not broken any laws.”

What Renee has done, however, is advocate loudly for reform both in Florida and across the country,  organizing parents' rallies and speaking to the media, calling for broad-based medical cannabis legislation that could help her son as well as many others. Ladybud Magazine has reported on  Renee’s activism numerous times.

“I feel like our family was targeted,” said Renee, “just because I’m doing what our beautiful country is built on: freedom of speech. I’m just trying to change and better the world that we live in.”

When the Cps investigator arrived at the family’s residence, Renee was picking up her 9-year-old daughter Rachel from school and Branden was at home with his visiting nurse. The nurse frantically called Renee to tell her that an investigator was at the door and Renee rushed home, fearing the worst.

When Renee arrived, the Cps investigator explained that she would have to question the children in a separate room so that Renee could not influence their answers. The investigator isolated a terrified Rachel from Renee and asked the child, “Does your mother give your brother illegal drugs?” Renee said the investigator also asked Rachel other questions that did not directly pertain to Branden’s medical treatment.

“She asked Rachel if I was 'nice' and if she felt safe – these questions were totally not what the tip was about – they were asking more about if I’m some bad person or bad mother," Renee said. "They were making me out to be a monster.”

The investigator also tried to interview Branden, but he was in a “post-ictal” state recovering from a seizure and was non-responsive. As Branden slept in his bed, the investigator asked Renee to move his head and position him so he could be photographed as evidence.

“I feel like our family was violated, like we were raped,” said Renee. “My daughter was terrified. She was afraid she was going to be taken away from our family.”

Renee said that the investigator also inventoried and photographed all of Branden’s prescription medications. Terrified of losing her children and wishing to cooperate fully, Renee also shared Branden’s latest labwork, which shows the levels of the prescription drugs in his blood – levels which Renee said prove that all Branden’s pharmaceutical medications have been administered as prescribed.

“I cooperated like I was an open book,” said Renee. “I’ve been doing it by the book all along because I don’t want to commit a crime. I don’t want to lose my children. All I want to do is change laws to get the chance to save my son’s life.”

Renee quickly shared the story with  local news media, believing the public would rally around her family as as it has in the past when stories about her activism and advocacy work have been covered by local television stations. The reporting about this incident as well as the public response has been overwhelmingly positive, said Renee.

“The medical cannabis community has been incredibly supportive,” Renee explains. “And even people who have no idea about medical marijuana have extended their support and said what is happening is cruel. They say, ‘We’ve seen the news stories and we don’t know too much about [medical marijuana] but we see that you love your son.’ “

Although the Cps investigation has left Renee feeling vulnerable and afraid, it has also strengthened her commitment to advocate for medical cannabis.

“I’m not backing down,” said Renee. “In fact, this is making the tiger roar even louder and I’m going to continue fighting [for medical cannabis laws to change]. I am an activist to help him heal.”

Renee fears that the investigation is not over, however, and she is preparing to weather more questioning and scrutiny.

“As a strong and determined but absolutely terrified parent right now, I’m reaching out for people to help me,” said Renee. “We are going to need help legally, and I’m rallying people to support our family in this fight because I know that we’re going to need it.”

Firing child-abuse workers goes far beyond ‘oops’

Our View: Latest blunder points to system so messed up that even reformers can't get it right


(Photo: Nick Oza/The Republic )

Arizona's child welfare agency didn't need another black eye. Especially not on the face of the new office that's supposed to be an example of how things should be done.

Unfortunately, the black eye is one result of news about two investigators who worked on child abuse cases for months before being fired for making false claims to get hired.

If this is the only result of this folly, kids will suffer.

First, let's be clear: This is a big blunder from the state Office of Child Welfare Investigations, which earned kudos last year for revealing that more than 6,500 reports of child abuse and neglect were systematically ignored by the agency formerly known as Child Protective Services.

This revelation led Gov. Jan Brewer to name a top-level task force, rename CPS and ask lawmakers to permanently pull it out of the Department of Economic Security as part of a major reform. That process is ongoing.

So this is a particularly unfortunate time to learn that OCWI hired two investigators that likely wouldn't have made the grade if mandated employment checks had been properly done.

One provided a resume that falsely claimed he was a former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy. The other quit the Pima County Sheriff's Office rather than being fired after he sent a cell phone picture of his exposed penis to his girlfriend while on duty. He says nobody at OCWI asked, so he didn't tell.

The problems with both of these applicants could have been discovered if OCWI followed a 2012 law that requires "documented, good faith effort to contact current and previous employers." This goes beyond "oops."

The lack of investigators' credibility could damage cases against accused child abusers. State officials say no cases were compromised. Let's hope not.

Let's also hope that OCWI digs a little deeper into resumes from now on.

But here's the rub: Arizona was supposed to be beyond just wishin' and hopin' for better from Arizona's child welfare system. The governor promised big changes, and that led to big expectations.

This incident looks like the latest foul-up from system so far beyond redemption that even the reformers can't get it right. Such justifiable cynicism is one result of this dumb and potentially dangerous hiring mistake.

More info at:

Arizona CPS Exposed – a new series exposing Arizona’s CPS system and how you can protect your family

Arizona Family Rights Project launches the new series “Arizona CPS Exposed” on America Speaks Blog Talk Radio. This series will discuss the problems with Arizona’s CPS system, ways you can help make changes and ways you can protect your children and family from the over-reach and abuse from an out-of-control agency.

Each week we will focus on different issues and topics taking you through a CPS case.


On August 31, 2012 CPS took 9 of our grandchildren into custody. Our family saw and lived through the abuse of CPS in Arizona. Throughout the case we paid attention and took notes. What we witnessed was unbelievable. The tentacles of the abuse run not only within the agency, but reach out to service providers, foster parents as well as our elected officials responsible for the agency.

It took 14 ½ months to get all 9 children in the custody of family as well as:

  • 137 hours of parenting classes
  • 84 therapy appointments for the mother (doesn’t include children’s therapy)
  • 45 CFT meetings
  • 22 IEP meetings
  • 29 court hearings
  • Approximately 450 hours of visitation
  • And approximately $60,000

To buy back the children from the state, the ransom paid to the hostage takers.

Against the odds our case ended with the reunification of 7 of the children with the mother. The father’s rights were voluntarily severed to give the mother a chance. One of the children is in our custody on probation from his arrest while in foster care. The initial victim of the case is participating in the Young Adult Program and is living with the alleged abuser’s mother, the paternal grandmother. While the CPS case is over, the criminal case is still pending and faces postponement after postponement. Until that case is finished there will be no closure for the family.

We believe no family should have to endure the abuse from CPS. Yes, there are abusive parents in the world, but far too many children are being removed from families with the end result being severance and adoption. The trauma to the family and children cannot be fully appreciated by anyone who has not experienced it firsthand.

The best way to describe this situation is a quote another parent said during a parenting class:

“It’s like you are dealing with a hostage taking situation
Where you are trying to negotiate the safe return of your children
From the hostage takers”

We made a commitment to not just become angry victims of the system. We decided to use our case and the stories of others to make positive changes. It is a huge undertaking and one that will take time. But if people do nothing and remain silent the abuse will continue and the agency will continue to grow, destroying more children and families in its wake.

We cannot remain silent!

What topics will be covered in this series?

We will take you through the aspects of a real CPS case through our own experience, from the initial removal of the children, the courts, foster care, services and the reunification process. We will tell you about the corruption we witnessed during our case. We will even cover the Youth Adult Program and an incarcerated child while in the hands of foster care/CPS.

We believe sharing our story will help educate and bring light to a problem that has long been ignored.

We learned like far too many families too late. We weren’t prepared at the beginning of the case. What we thought were protected rights under the constitution we quickly discovered weren’t in family court.

Maybe we can help families take the steps to avoid a CPS call. Maybe we can help families through the difficult months ahead after a CPS call. Perhaps we can even convince our legislators to make meaningful reforms to CPS to provide protections to those children who need it while providing services and assistance to those in trouble. We hope to reduce the number of victims of the system; those children ripped from the hands of their family, placed in foster care, with half placed up for adoption.

Throughout the series we will be asking for your help. It may be to share your story with us, to attend an event, or to make phone calls to your legislators.

We hope you will stay with us, invite family and friends as America Speaks Blog Talk Radio and Arizona Family Rights Projects present “Arizona CPS Exposed.”

Next week’s show

Next week we will be discussing how CPS became the problem it is today and how we can help protect our children.

Can I place my child with other family members

When children have been abused or neglected, DFPS may remove them from their homes to ensure their immediate safety. The court system is required to consider a temporary placement with a relative and asks the parents to provide DFPS with contact information for relatives who may be able to at least temporarily care for the child.

When placing children, the court considers their needs the most important consideration. All the parties involved in the decision making process may identify a kinship placement as the most appropriate as a result of a Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) conference. The placement may be court ordered, usually after DFPS completes a home assessment. The agency will try to take into account the parents’ desires about the care provided to their child whenever possible. If placement with a relative is not available or appropriate, the child may be placed in foster care.

A version of this column originally appeared in