An Ohio Amish family’s chemotherapy decision has turned into a battle over Constitutional and parental rights.
Andy and Anna Hershberger believe the cancer treatments are actually making their daughter, Sarah, more ill. The 11-year-old girl has leukemia. Like many Amish families, the Northeastern Ohio clan shuns modern conveniences. The Hershbergers live in Homer Township, approximately 35 miles southwest of Cleveland, although they are now in hiding.
Although the Hershbergers are devout, they have consistently maintained their religious beliefs did not factor into their decision to terminate Sarah’s chemotherapy treatments. Since last summer the family has opted to use natural medicines such as herbs and vitamins to help their sick daughter. Concerns that continuing the chemo cancer treatments would ultimately kill their child was a motivating factor in the switch in health care practices. According to the parents, the girl experienced terrible side effects to the round of chemotherapy, prompting them to seek natural remedies.
The Medina County Probate Court ruled that the Ohio Amish family was within its rights when opting out of chemotherapy treatments for Sarah. Akron Children’s Hospital appealed the court’s decision, arguing that the girl’s leukemia is currently treatable and that Sarah will die within a year if chemotherapy procedures do not resume.
The Ohio 9th District Court of Appeals overturned the Medina County Court’s ruling and ordered a guardian be appointed for the purpose of governing medical care decisions for Sarah Hershberger. Maria Schimer, a registered nurse, was appointed the Amish girl’s guardian.
The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a libertarian group, is now representing the Hershberger family. Legal filing state that Andy and Anna Hershberger’s Constitutional rights were violated and noted that parental rights were also abridged.
Said Maurice Thompson, the family’s attorney:
They have maintained all along that the government does not have the authority to do this. A court shouldn’t allow a mistaken ruling to stand that could affect every patient in the state. Any parent could have significant decisions second-guessed, any parent could lose the right to choose the doctor, hospital and course of medical treatment of their children. It’s the constitutional right, but there’s a moral right to refuse conventional medical treatment.
The guardian said the Amish girl’s parents cannot utilize the constitutional rights argument in the appeal because the claim was not voiced during the initial court complaint. Thompson, though, says the violation of Constitutional rights is more important that appeals process technicalities.
Schimer ultimately signed a guardianship resignation form to remove herself from the case. Although she noted in a court brief that she feels the ruling that led to the establishment of medical guardianship should not be reversed, she personally wanted to stop trying to make the Amish child undergo chemotherapy treatments. The registered nurse stated that the Hershberger family fled and it therefore was not possible for her to make medical choices on the girl’s behalf.
The Amish family’s attorney claims that Sarah’s medical condition has improved significantly since she began natural alternative treatments for the leukemia.
Andy Hershberger previously told ABC News:
We’ve seen how sick it makes her. Our belief is the natural stuff will do just as much as that stuff if it’s God’s will. 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.
The Hershbergers also maintain that Sarah complained about how sick and tired the chemo treatments made her feel.
What do you think? Should the parents be allowed to make decisions for their daughter?