Family refuses cancer treatment for 10-yr old, judge agrees

In another update to a convoluted story, an Amish girl will not be forced to resume chemotherapy treatments.

We covered this story at the end of August when a judge blocked the request for an attorney who is also a registered nurse to assume temporary custody and force the child to undergo treatment for leukemia against her parent’s wishes. That decision was sent back for reconsideration and it looked like the hospital would win out and she would resume treatment. But, in another legal flip-flop, she will not.

Sarah Hershberger, Ohio Amish Girl, Can’t Be Forced To Resume Cancer Treatments.

A judge has again blocked an Ohio hospital from forcing a 10-year-old Amish girl to resume chemotherapy after her parents decided to stop the treatments.

The order siding with the parents comes just a week after an appeals court sent the case back to the judge and told him to give more consideration to the request by Akron Children’s Hospital.

Judge John Lohn, in Medina County, said in his ruling Tuesday that not allowing the parents to make medical decisions for their daughter would take away their rights. He also said there is no guarantee that chemotherapy would be successful.

“They are good parents,” he said. “They understand completely the grave situation their daughter is in and the consequences of their choice to refuse chemotherapy for Sarah at this time.”

Lohn said also that allowing for a guardian would go against the girl’s wishes.

So the individual parties all have a valid argument, certainly. But the clincher may have been the child’s wishes. She does not want to continue the treatment, presumably with the understanding (along with her parents) that she may very well die. A comparison is made to those who have terminal cancer and choose to die but that’s not the same, this is a child. The parents seem more accepting of death of their child than perhaps the rest of society is.

I can’t say I agree but it is not my choice to make. This essay in Slate provides a thought-provoking other view.

There’s a strong temptation, especially in a story involving a seriously ill young child and a culture that eschews many of the trappings of modern life, to desperately want to intervene. And if this were a story about some self-righteous anti-vaxxers or parents who, out of some superstitious belief, refused to ever take their kid to the doctor, I would be all over it as a tale of negligence. But from all appearances, this is instead a story far more complex — and compassionate. Hershberger’s family began a two-year course of chemo for the girl last spring, but ended a second round in June because they said it was making her too sick. Her father, Andy, says that she “begged” her parents to let her stop. In a statement, the hospital said, “This case is about children’s rights and giving a 10-year-old girl an 85 per cent chance of survival with treatment.” But in his ruling, Judge John Lohn said, “They are good parents. They understand completely the grave situation their daughter is in and the consequences of their choice to refuse chemotherapy for Sarah at this time.”

The ultimate solution is that we find less horrible treatments for cancer. But that won’t happen soon. In the meantime, this is the agony we face.

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  5 comments for “Family refuses cancer treatment for 10-yr old, judge agrees

  1. Bob
    September 6, 2013 at 3:49 PM

    Actually, they sound like freaking awful parents, because in all likelihood if anyone else had this child, the child would have lived. Seems to me the crucial variable there is the parents. I’m furious. I’m going to have a sulk.

  2. Chris Howard
    September 6, 2013 at 4:08 PM

    So they did have her on chemo, but stopped because their daughter requested that they do so? I’m confused? There is an 85% chance that she’ll live if she continues the treatment?

    Obviously my brain isn’t processing something, here.

  3. September 6, 2013 at 4:22 PM

    I’m with you on this Bob. I notice in the Huffington article the judge only refers to the rights of the parents, not the rights of the child, which is what the hospital officials are putting first. No surprise, I guess, since the U.S. is the only country in the world that hasn’t ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Somalia hardly counts since it is a disabled state). Of course, its possible the judge mentioned the child’s specific rights elsewhere, but he has apparently based his decision on the parent’s rights.

    In this particular case, the child’s wishes should be given less consideration than they would be in a different legal context, for example a custody dispute, because of the religious coercion she has faced all her young life. She cannot make a fully free and informed decision about her own medical care, both because she is too young to fully understand and because of religious dogma she has been indoctrinated with.

  4. Massachusetts
    September 8, 2013 at 9:34 PM

    I think that religion and “religious coercion” are less significant factors here. The parents were willing to try treatments and did so for a long time. They can’t bear to see the child suffer and the child is at her limit. So that’s why they are trying to stop treatment, not religious mania, which is understandable, but still not necessarily the right thing to do.

    I think there’s an excellent case to be made for resuming treatment. Her chances for survival, and a normal life, are very high, and she’s a child, so her suffering now must be compared against the very real possibility of a long life. For an elderly person who’d lived her whole life, this wouldn’t be the same conclusion, most likely.

    It’s easy to come down firmly one way or the other, but it’s clearly not an easy decision. There’s suffering both ways, and the the potential for death with both choices too. I think the option that offers best chance for a normal life, ultimately, is the way to go, even though it’s a very difficult road, so come down on the side of treatment.

  5. September 9, 2013 at 4:01 AM

    I think that this is a horrible decision to have to make. But the truth is that both the parents and the child agree. Were the decision made out of ignorance or superstition, I’d say that the Judge should step in and force the child to receive treatment. But it sounds to me like the parents made an educated decision, and they understand the situation and they are seeing their child suffering, and that’s the only reason why they are deciding to stop the chemo. Just because you would make a different decision, doesn’t mean that it’s ok to override the parent’s decision. You need more than that.

    People look at this and say that it’s a simple equation — 85% chance that the child will recover. But sometimes, when you’ve spent time suffering, you reach a point where you can’t take it anymore. That’s something that is not being considered in this seemingly simple equation. If there’s 100% chance that the child has already suffered beyond her breaking point, and the parents are also in agony as a consequence, then it’s no longer a simple decision. It’s just wrong for someone not directly involved to judge someone else’s suffering.

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