AKRON, OHIO — An Amish girl fighting leukemia recently fled the United States with her parents to escape the forced administration of chemotherapy, despite an earlier ruling by an Ohio judge supporting her family’s decision to halt conventional treatment.
An appeals court issued a ruling granting an attorney for Akron Children’s Hospital, Maria Schimer, temporary guardianship over 11-year-old Sarah Hershberger after she begged her parents to discontinue the toxic drugs being administered to fight cancer. “Parental rights, even if based upon firm belief and honest convictions can be limited in order to protect the ‘best interests’ of the child,” the court ruled.
“We’ve seen how sick [chemotherapy] makes her,” the girl’s father, Andy Hershberger, said before the appeals court handed down its decision on October 1st. “She would have more suffering doing chemo than not.”
“Sarah says her doctor should be put in jail,” wrote Judge John Lohn in the original ruling. “Even if the treatments are successful, there is a very good chance Sarah will become infertile and have other serious health risks for the rest of her life.”
Sarah is battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), a malignancy of the blood and bone marrow, which is sometimes treated systemically with a combination of powerful toxic drugs. Among these agents is Cytoxan, a derivative of the chemical weapon mustard gas, which was used extensively to shell entrenched troops during World War I and purportedly used by the Saddam Hussein regime against masses of Iranian soldiers during the First Persian Gulf War.
Cytoxan treatments are designed to damage the DNA of cancerous cells. It also destroys healthy, fast-growing tissues in the mouth, gastrointestinal tract, reproductive system, hair follicles and blood stream. It has a marked effect on the body’s immune system, stripping away patients’ natural defenses against life-threatening infections. The drug can even induce a secondary leukemia.
The treatment is exhausting, painful, and potentially deadly. Still, the doctors representing Akron Children’s Hospital claimed that Sarah had an 85 percent chance of survival with chemotherapy and demanded that she be drugged by force.
Her parents believe the drugs themselves would have killed her, which is a definite possibility. The Hershbergers made the desperate decision in an effort to save their daughter’s life — run.
When sheriff’s deputies and social workers arrived at the family’s home to take the girl, they discovered that the family had departed. It turned out that the family had left the country to seek voluntary, alternative treatments.
“If we do chemotherapy and she would happen to die, she would probably suffer more than if we would do it this way and she would happen to die,” her father reasoned.
“It’s the constitutional right, but [there’s a] moral right to refuse conventional medical treatment,” said Maurice Thompson, the Hershberger’s attorney.
After fleeing the U.S., Sarah was treated at a natural cancer center in Central America, according to her grandfather Issac Keim. He said lab tests have shown that the girl, who recently celebrated her 11th birthday, is now cancer-free. The family has since returned to the United States but is hiding from the government.
Keim, a bishop for the tightly-knit religious community 35 miles outside Cleveland where the Hershberger’s other five children remain, hopes his family can reunite for Christmas. Attorney Maurice Thompson, the executive director of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a Columbus-based nonprofit group supporting limited government interference in people’s lives, agreed to help the family for free.
“What kind of gift would that be,” said Keim, “if we could get this resolved and they can come back home without fear of being in contempt of court or having their child snatched away? We’re praying every day that this thing can be resolved and [they] get their lives back together.”
The argument that a family can be mandated to follow a treatment plan against the wishes of everyone in the family is dangerous and short-sighted. Ultimately the family will have to live with the consequences of any decision they make, and none of them offer an incontrovertible chance of living to old age. Statistics cited by men in white coats might be helpful information in weighing medical options, but should hold no legal standing and are frankly irrelevant in terms of a family’s right to make their own medical decisions.
Not even the doctors can guarantee a positive outcome. Their arrogant position of forcing the family to undergo a risky and painful treatment violates their oath of “First, do no harm.” It is a very real possibility that their non-consensual drugging could cause the girl to die an agonizing death of chemotherapy poisoning. The doctors aren’t the ones who will have to live with the life-and-death consequences of the decision, and should never be in a place to force their will on patients.
“One of the big issues in this case is not just parental rights — not just about Sarah — but that this opens the door for these hospitals to create a lot of fear in the parents if you don’t obey their orders,” said David Augenstein, who publishes the online Journal of Natural Food and Health. “This case is not just about Sarah and her cancer treatment… It is about the right for anyone to obtain a second opinion and the freedom to choose you own medical treatments without fear of losing your child. It is about using the interpretation of law by powerful and profitable corporations like hospitals to force their beliefs in their expensive medical treatments on people who do not want them.”
UPDATE: HOSPITAL BACKS OFF AFTER MEETING RESISTANCE
Sarah Hershberger and her family should be able to return home in time for Christmas, a press release stated. The official whom had been granted limited guardianship over Sarah on behalf of the State and Akron Children’s Hospital has resigned guardianship. The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, representing the Hershbergers, has accepted the resignation.
“We made it clear to our opponents that they were in for a protracted battle over fundamental principles and constitutional rights; and that on each, they were on the wrong side,” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.
A judge needs to approve the resignation and the Hershbergers will be free to come out of hiding and pursue the health care choices that they desire.
This is a huge relief for the family, but a small victory against forced drugging and child snatching. A great many reforms are needed across the country, as not every agent of the state will have the good conscience to back off when resistance is met. Many other families are being broken up and force-medicated without recourse.
Let the hospital know how you feel about their efforts to seize children from parents and forcibly drug them.
Akron Children’s Hospital
1 Perkins Sq, Akron, OH
Phone: (330) 543-1000
Facebook: Akron Children’s Hospital