An 11-year-old Amish girl with cancer has gone into hiding following an Ohio court judgement ordering her to disregard her family’s religious objections and resume the treatment doctors say will save her life.
Sarah Hershberger, who is battling lymphoblastic lymphoma, galvanized national media earlier this year with her decision to discontinue chemotherapy against the recommendations of her medical team at Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron, Ohio. In response, the hospital filed a lawsuit to appoint a limited legal guardian and strip the girl’s parents of their right to make medical decisions for their daughter. A few days before an appellate court granted the hospital’s application, Sarah and her parents traveled to a natural treatment center in Central America, where she received holistic substitutes for conventional therapies. The family has been in hiding ever since.
Sarah’s parents argue that the two-year chemotherapy program is unnatural, and that its curative capacity founders on the harsh side effects. The drugs, they say, will only make their daughter sick. "We've seen how sick it makes her," her father, Andy Hershberger, told reporters in August "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,” he added.
But the hospital assert that without the treatment, Sarah’s chances of survival will be dismal. Her parents’ proposed alternatives, which all fall well outside the parameters of conventional oncological care, will imperil her prognosis and undo the treatment she has so far received, hospital officials say. “While the short-term side effects like nausea, lack of energy and loss of hair, and the potential long-term side effects like organ damage and infertility, cannot be minimized, the question of her treatment is life and death,” Akron Children’s Hospital wrote in its complaint. “The plan presented by her parents is almost certain to lead to her death.”
Speaking to ABC News, Sarah’s attorney, Maurice Thompson, said that although the parents risk being held in contempt of court for failing to comply with the order, they are ultimately exercising a moral right. "It's the constitutional right, but [there's a] moral right to refuse conventional medical treatment," he told reporters. "Sarah's condition has gotten a lot better since the family has been pursuing the alternative treatment.”