MEDINA: A Medina County judge appointed a guardian Wednesday afternoon for the limited purpose of making medical decisions for a 10-year-old Amish girl who is battling leukemia.
The guardian, Maria Schimer, a Portage County attorney and registered nurse, declined to comment on the case or the girl’s condition following a brief hearing before Probate Judge Kevin W. Dunn.
Schimer’s appointment was ordered last week in Akron by a 9th District Court of Appeals ruling, which overturned a previous decision that said keeping the parents from making decisions for their daughter would take away their parental rights.
Doctors at Akron Children’s Hospital have treated the girl, Sarah Hershberger, and have determined she will not survive without chemotherapy.
The hospital subsequently went to court after Sarah’s family decided to stop her medical treatments and handle the condition, instead, with natural medicines, herbs and vitamins.
Neither of the girl’s parents attended Wednesday’s hearing in Medina. Their lawyer, John Oberholtzer, said they wanted no part of the guardianship proceedings and are vehemently opposed to continuing Sarah’s chemotherapy.
Sarah’s father, Andy Hershberger, has said the family, which lives in Spencer, agreed last spring to begin two years of treatment for her but decided to stop a second round of treatment in June because it made Sarah extremely ill, according to an Associated Press story.
Outside court Wednesday, Oberholtzer said Sarah is “doing quite well” and is going to an Amish community school in Homerville.
He said her parents disagree with the medical findings that chemotherapy is needed.
“They feel that chemotherapy is destructive of the human body, and they feel that the body can naturally conquer cancer. Therefore, they don’t feel they should have Sarah subjected to this,” Oberholtzer said.
Three Amish men, who declined to give their names and identified themselves only as neighbors of Sarah’s family, accompanied Oberholtzer to the hearing. One of the men spoke up afterward, saying Sarah did have her first phase of chemotherapy.
“It worked greatly, and we were not opposed to that,” he said.
The man brought some papers to the hearing and showed them to a Cleveland TV reporter in a courtroom hallway.
“The papers tell us that they could not find anything of that cancer [after the first round of Sarah’s treatment]. This is why we withdrew [treatment], because in our community this is something that we had done many times,” he said.
The man said he has a son-in-law who refused to undergo chemotherapy for a cancer diagnosis.
“He was given zero chance [of survival]. He went home, and that was nine years ago,” the man said. The son-in-law made it with “basically what we’re doing with Sarah.”
Clair Dickinson, a former appellate judge now in private practice, said the scientific evidence in the case came to a strong conclusion: with continuing treatment of Sarah at Children’s Hospital, she has an 85 percent chance to survive.
Without such treatment, “she will die,” Dickinson said. “We don’t want to stand by and allow that cancer survival rate to evaporate.”
Dickinson is the attorney for the guardian, Schimer, in the likelihood of future court hearings in the matter.
He said he expects the Hershbergers will abide by the 9th District ruling and allow Schimer to make decisions for the health and safety of Sarah.
“I believe that they’re law-abiding citizens,” Dickinson said. “I assume they will cooperate and get her the treatment she needs.”
And if they don’t?
“I guess that’s the question of the future,” Oberholtzer said.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.