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Judge Rules Against Corrective Surgery for Boy Whose Religion Forbids It

December 21, 1990 GMT

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) _ A Southeast Asian boy shouldn’t be forced to have surgery because his family’s fear of arousing angry spirits would do him more harm than skipping operations to fix his clubfeet, a judge ruled.

Superior Court Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill ruled Thursday the potential psychological and physical harm to Kou Xiong, a 7-year-old Hmong refugee, outweighs efforts to correct the clubfoot condition that doctors say could leave him unable to walk.

O’Neill, who had ordered the surgery 10 months ago, said he reversed himself Thursday because psychiatrist David A. Fox said the trauma of going against traditional Hmong religious beliefs could kill Kou and others in his family.

Fox, a psychiatrist at Valley Children’s Hospital in this central California city of 350,000, spoke with a Hmong shaman in studying Kou’s case.

″The system clearly has done the best it can for this child and family,″ O’Neill said. ″The child’s family must now do what is best for themselves.″

Kou’s parents, Ger and Houa Vue Xiong, oppose surgery because they believe spirits gave their son clubfeet as punishment for a wrong committed by an ancestor. They believe Kou’s younger brothers were born with cleft palates because he received care for his feet at a Thailand refugee camp after the family fled the mountains of Laos.

Kou, who was carried into court by his father Thursday, walked with a halting gait during a previous court appearance.

″I think the judge or everybody has to know more about people before making a judgment,″ Ger Xiong said through an interpreter after O’Neill announced his ruling. ″They have to respect ... respect the people. We are different.″

A reclusive hill people from northern Laos, many Hmongs had little contact with the outside world before joining a U.S.-supported campaign against communist insurgents in the early 1970s. When Laos’ pro-U.S. government fell, thousands of Hmongs fled to the United States.

″This operation was seen by the family as having long-term effects which could cause them disease and financial disaster,″ said the family’s lawyer, Joe Reich.

If the surgery had been forced on Kou, Reich said, the family would have rejected him and welfare officials could not have placed him with another Hmong family.

All 18 Hmong clans in the United States had supported the family’s opposition to surgery.