By John Seewer
A 10-year-old Amish girl with leukemia and her parents have fled their home in Ohio, leaving the country at one point, so that she won’t be forced into resuming chemotherapy treatments, the family’s attorney said Wednesday.
The family has been fighting a hospital in court for months after the parents decided to halt the treatments because they were making the girl sick.
They left their home in rural northeast Ohio just days before a state appeals court appointed a guardian in October to take over medical decisions for the Sarah Hershberger, said attorney Maurice Thompson.
“They don’t want Sarah to be taken away,” he said.
Doctors at Akron Children’s Hospital believe Sarah’s leukemia is treatable, but say she will die without chemotherapy. The hospital went to court after the family decided to stop chemotherapy and treat Sarah with natural medicines, such as herbs and vitamins.
An appeals court ruling in October gave an attorney who’s also a registered nurse limited guardianship over Sarah and the power to make medical decisions for her. The court said the beliefs and convictions of her parents can’t outweigh the rights of the state to protect the child.
The family has appealed the decision to both the appeals court and the Ohio Supreme Court. They also plan to file a motion to terminate the guardianship.
They have not had any contact with the guardian since the ruling, said Clair Dickinson, the guardian’s attorney.
A taxi was sent to the family’s home nearly two months ago after the guardian was appointed to take the Sarah to the hospital in Akron, but someone at the home said the family was not there, Dickinson said.
There are no plans to ask the court to find the family or force the girl into chemotherapy while the case is being appealed, he said.
He said Sarah’s last known chemotherapy session was in June, and that doctors have said she could die within a year if treatments don’t resume.
“I’m very concerned about her,” he said.
The girl has undergone alternative-therapy treatments and is doing well, Thompson said. The family told him that she has more energy and that CT scans show the treatments are working.
Thompson, who leads the libertarian 1851 Center for Constitutional Law in Ohio, said he believes that the case is an example of the courts trampling on the rights of parents and freedom to refuse medical treatment.
State laws give parents a great deal of freedom when it comes to choosing medical treatment for their children, but not always when the decision could be a matter of life or death.
While these disputes are rare, they most often come up when a parent objects to treatment because of a religious belief or because they want to use natural medicines instead of chemotherapy, which some holistic practitioners oppose because of the chemicals that kill cancerous and healthy cells.
A Minnesota mom fled the state with her 13-year-old son in 2009 during a court battle over whether he should be forced to continue chemotherapy. She wanted her son’s cancer treated with natural healing methods, but the two returned after about a week and the boy underwent court-ordered chemo.
Andy Hershberger, the Ohio girl’s father, said this past summer that 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.
Sarah begged her parents to stop the chemo and they agreed after a great deal of prayer, Hershberger said. The family, members of an insular Amish community, shuns many facets of modern life and is deeply religious. They live on a farm and operate a produce stand near the village of Spencer in Medina County, about 35 miles southwest of Cleveland.
Hospital officials have said they are morally and legally obligated to make sure the girl receives proper care. They said the girl’s illness, lymphoblastic lymphoma, is an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but there is a high survival rate with treatment.