An Amish girl with cancer is spending Thanksgiving in hiding to avoid being forced to continue chemotherapy at Akron Children’s Hospital against her family’s wishes.
Sarah’s parents, Andy and Anna Hershberger, fled their Amish community in rural Medina County in October and took the girl to a natural cancer treatment center in Central America, her grandfather, Isaac Keim, said in an interview this week at the Akron Beacon Journal.
Blood and imaging tests have shown Sarah, who is continuing treatments with natural products, is cancer-free, her grandfather said. She recently celebrated her 11th birthday.
“She’s a vibrant, healthy girl,” Keim said.
Keim said he accompanied his granddaughter and her parents to the undisclosed clinic just days before a Medina County judge appointed Portage County attorney and registered nurse Maria Schimer guardian for the limited purpose of making medical decisions for Sarah as she battles lymphoma.
The girl and her parents, along with a baby sister, are back in the United States but remain in hiding, Keim said. The couple’s five other children are being cared for by their community, which shuns many modern conveniences and is deeply religious.
Keim, the bishop for his district, said he hopes his family can be together for the holiday season.
“What kind of gift would that be, if we could get this resolved and they can come back home without a fear of being in contempt of court or having their child snatched away,” he said. “We’re praying every day that this thing can be resolved and get their lives back together.”
After Sarah was diagnosed with lymphoma in April, she underwent a successful initial round of chemotherapy at Children’s that caused few side effects, her grandfather said. “We were very thankful.”
Second round stopped
But the family’s legal battle started when her parents decided to stop a second round of chemotherapy this summer when the treatments made her extremely ill and instead used natural remedies.
“She did not want any part of it anymore,” Keim said.
The hospital subsequently took the parents to court seeking to continue Sarah’s course of treatment, which doctors have said is needed to save her life. Children’s officials declined comment on Wednesday.
Clair E. Dickinson, an attorney for the guardian, said this week that he’s unsure where Sarah is staying or how she is faring.
Girl’s condition unknown
“The undisputed testimony was without treatment she would die within six months to a year,” Dickinson said. “She was last treated in June. We don’t know where she is, what her condition is or whether she is receiving treatment.”
The guardian arranged for transportation to take Sarah from her home to Akron for more treatments a few days after being appointed to make medical decisions, Dickinson said. When the driver arrived, the girl and her parents weren’t there.
“It’s pretty difficult to make medical decisions for somebody who you don’t know where they are or what their condition is,” Dickinson said.
Dickinson said there are no contempt-of-court orders or any other charges pending against the parents, despite their disappearance with Sarah.
“I would like to see this little girl get whatever treatment would be appropriate at this stage,” he said.
John Oberholtzer, one of the attorneys for the Hershbergers, couldn’t be reached.
Attorney Maurice A. Thompson, executive director of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, said he recently agreed to help the family for free and filed a brief in support of the parents with the Ohio Supreme Court, where an appeal is being sought. The nonprofit group, based in Columbus, supports limited government intrusion in people’s lives.
The case centers on the Hershbergers’ rights as competent, caring parents to determine what is best for their child, Thompson said.
The legal fight has repercussions beyond parental rights, he added. “It’s also health-care freedom — the right to refuse medical treatment and to choose a different option.”
Natural remedies helping
Sarah’s grandfather said he and other members of their community have had great success using natural remedies along with conventional medicine to treat cancer.
Her parents wanted to work with the hospital, he said. “We wanted them to monitor if we put her on completely natural products.”
But Thompson said Sarah’s parents have lost trust in Children’s and fear she would be “kidnapped” if they took her for medical care.
“It’s chased them away from any benefit that treatment in a hospital could provide,” he said.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.