Ohio judge ends push to force chemotherapy on Amish girl

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RNS photo by Gus Chan / The Plain Dealer

RNS photo by Gus Chan / The Plain Dealer

An Amish family walks on Springdale Ave. after visiting the Harrington Square shopping plaza in Middlefield August 2, 2012.

An Amish family walks on Springdale Ave. after visiting the Harrington Square shopping plaza in Middlefield August 2, 2012.

CLEVELAND (Reuters) An Ohio judge on Friday formally ended a court effort to force chemotherapy on an Amish girl whose parents had defied a hospital over her treatment for leukemia, according to a ruling released on Friday.

Medina County Probate and Juvenile Judge Kevin Dunn terminated the medical guardianship for the girl, ending a legal battle over the limits on parents’ rights to make medical decisions.

A court-appointed medical guardian had already given up on forcing the girl to resume chemotherapy after her family left the country for a while in 2013 to pursue alternative treatments that the family said improved the girl’s condition.

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In his ruling, Dunn said Sarah Hershberger, now 12, appeared healthy and active but also cautioned that her cancer could recur and, in that case, her parents must act quickly to get her treatment.

He said the girl “shows no outward symptoms of the lymphoma with which she was previously diagnosed.”

The Hershberger family, from Homer Township, belong to one of Ohio’s Amish church communities that farm, make wooden furniture, largely shun modern technology and dress in plain, sober suits and dresses.

The girl and her parents had fought to end her chemotherapy, arguing it had made her ill and that she could be treated with alternative therapies. They cited concerns over side-effects from chemotherapy, such as potential infertility.

The family’s previous attorney said in 2013 that the parents did not wish to subject their daughter to chemotherapy and believed that the will of God would triumph.

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The chief medical officer at Akron Children’s Hospital had told the court in 2013 that she had an 85 percent survival rate with treatment but could die within a year if she did not receive it.

A lower court initially denied medical guardianship but in October 2013 an appeals court ruled that the hospital could force the girl to resume chemotherapy, and appointed a medical guardian to make decisions for Hershberger.

“This case exposed the worst of the alignment between health care ‘experts,’ Ohio’s big hospital lobby and faulty government legislation,” The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a non-profit legal center that provided support for the family, said in a statement on Friday.

By Kim Palmer; Writing by Fiona Ortiz in Chicago; Editing by Bill Trot

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  • Daniel Berry, NYC

    The fact of this family’s being Amish doesn’t seem to have all that much to do with this story as it’s presented here, at any rate: Initially the family allowed the chemo, but stopped it when the chemo made her sick. Additionally, they were concerned about infertility as a possible side-effect, which may reflect a religion-tinged attitude. Overall, the headline seems sensationalist.

  • Tom Downs

    The ethical and legal dilemma here seems beyond easy solution. The lawyer’s comment seems over blown, but does highlight some of the problems with today’s health care/health insurance industry.
    How would it change the situation if the parents said they were stopping because they couldn’t afford chemotherapy? That’s a real situation for many many people.

  • larry

    One of the issues that may be in play is that the chemo would render her sterile. In the rigidly patriarchal and agricultural society of the Amish, death is preferable to a woman who can’t bear 4-8 kids.

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  • Mike De Fleuriot

    And you wonder why us atheists hate your religions.

    Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.
    — Steven Weinberg