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Judge blocks Akron Children’s effort to force Amish girl from Medina County to undergo chemotherapy

By John Seewer
Beacon Journal staff, wire report

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A Medina County judge again has blocked Akron Children’s 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 a week after an appeals court sent the case back to the judge and told him to give more consideration to the hospital’s request.

Children’s Hospital wants a registered nurse to take over limited guardianship of Sarah Hershberger and decide whether she should continue treatments for leukemia. The hospital believes Sarah’s leukemia is treatable and says she will die without chemotherapy.

Andy Hershberger, the girl’s father, said the family agreed to begin two years of treatments for Sarah last spring but stopped a second round of chemotherapy in June because it was making her extremely sick.

Common Pleas Judge John Lohn 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.

“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,” the judge said.

In a statement emailed to the Beacon Journal, the hospital said it was disappointed in the ruling.

“We believe this case is about children’s rights and giving a 10-year-old girl an 85 percent chance of survival with treatment,” the statement said. “We stand by our doctors who care deeply about their patients and fully embrace the principles of family-centered care, which includes making sure parents know and understand the risks and benefits of treatment.”

While state laws give parents a great deal of freedom when it comes to choosing medical treatment for their children, that’s not always true when the decision could be a matter of life or death. Courts most often will draw the line when doctors think the child’s life is in danger and there’s a good chance the treatments being suggested will work, according to several medical ethicists.

Lohn ruled in July that Sarah’s parents had the right to make medical decisions for her, but the appeals court said he failed to consider whether appointing a guardian would be in the girl’s best interest and ordered him to reconsider his decision.

Sarah’s father said she begged her parents to stop the chemotherapy, and they agreed after a great deal of prayer. The family, members of an insular Amish community, shuns many facets of modern life. They live on a farm and operate a produce stand near the village of Spencer in Medina County.

They opted to consult with a wellness center, treat Sarah with natural medicines, such as herbs and vitamins, and see another doctor who is monitoring their daughter, Hershberger said.

He said they have not ruled out returning to Akron Children’s Hospital if Sarah’s health worsens. The hospital has said the girl’s illness — lymphoblastic lymphoma — is an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.


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