What if the child begs and pleads to stop the treatments because the suffering is so extreme? Suppose the patient is an adolescent girl who tells her parents to stop the treatments because she doesn’t want to become infertile – a common side effect?
This is the exact scenario that is playing out in Ohio where Andy and Anna Hershberger decided to forgo chemotherapy for their daughter, Sarah, as its effects were too devastating. Sarah suffers from lymphoblastic lymphoma , an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The family lives on a farm in a quiet Amish community and operates a produce stand near the village of Spencer, about 35 miles southwest of Cleveland in the county of Medina.
Sarah’s parents originally sought treatment at Akron Children’s Hospital to treat tumors on Sarah’s kidney, neck and chest. Some of these tumors were visible to the naked eye.
At first, Andy and Anna agreed to two years of chemotherapy despite their Amish religious convictions that shun some modern medical interventions. Sarah underwent the first round of chemotherapy which shrunk the tumors considerably. Sarah was not considered in remission from the leukemia, however, as the second round of chemo was not completed.
After witnessing their daughter’s terrible suffering, Andy and Anna could stand it no longer and terminated the chemo, opting instead for the guidance of another physician at a wellness center along with the use of natural medicines, such as herbs and vitamins.
Hershberger said in a telephone interview:
“Our belief is, to a certain extent, we can use modern medicine, but at some times we have to stop it and do something else.”
He added that Sarah is much better and has a lot more energy now that she’s being treated at the wellness center where he and Anna are watching her closely. They have not ruled out going back to the hospital for chemo if Sarah’s situation deteriorates. He said:
“We told them if it gets to the point that we cannot do anything for her, we would come back.”
Stopping the chemo treatments was not just the wishes of the parents. Sarah herself expressed that she did not want to become infertile from the chemo treatments which is a common side effect in addition to nausea and organ damage. Despite Sarah’s expressed wish to preserve her body’s ability to bear children in future years, the hospital doctors disagreed and said the bigger question was one of life and death.
When the Hershbergers refused the second round of chemo treatments for Sarah, the hospital took them to court in order to usurp their parental authority. The hospital wants Maria Schimer, registered nurse and attorney, to take over limited guardianship and make medical decisions for Sarah claiming that without continued chemotherapy, she will die within one year.
Maria Schimer on behalf of the hospital wrote the following in a letter to the court:
‘”The plan presented by Sarah’s parents is almost certain to lead to Sarah’s death. Every day that goes by without treatment, Sarah’s chance of surviving her cancer is diminished.”
A judge initially ruled in July that Andy and Anna had the right to make medical decisions for their daughter Sarah and the hospital could not intervene.
Judge John Lohn wrote in his decision:
“The court cannot deprive these parents of their right to make medical decisions for their daughter because there is not a scintilla of evidence showing the parents are unfit.”
Judge Lohn also wrote that Andy and Anna were “caring, attentive, protective and concerned”. He added that “Sarah begged her parents to stop the treatments. Anna said she and Andy could not stand to watch what was happening to their daughter.”
An appeals court overturned his ruling this week by siding with the hospital. The court sent the case back to the county level specifying that more consideration be given to the Akron Children’s Hospital request that medical guardianship be given to Ms. Schimer. The court also disagreed with Judge Lohn’s decision that he could only transfer guardianship if the parents were found unfit.
John Oberholtzer, the family’s attorney, said the appellate court ruling essentially ordered the county judge to disregard the rights of the parents.
Indeed. With this outrageous decision, the noose has tightened further around the necks of parents to accept conventional medical treatments without question even when there is intense suffering and long term, life altering and irreversible physical damage from the treatments.
It used to be that parental authority was taken away only from unfit caregivers, but now, even loving, protective and concerned parents who are found by a court of law to be completely capable to parent their child are having their authority stripped by medicos with a completely different worldview.
The fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing and care of their children urgently requires legal protection from a conventionally minded establishment that increasingly seeks to collectivize child rearing particularly at a medical level.
UPDATE: For the September 2013 update on this story, click here.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
Sarah Hershberger, Amish girl chemotherapy: Appeals court sides with Akron Children’s Hospital