The legal endeavor to force an 11-year-old Amish girl with cancer to undergo chemotherapy against her wishes was concluded on Friday when the court-appointed guardian dropped the matter.
In April this year, doctors at Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron, Ohio diagnosed 11-year-old Sarah Hershberger with lymphoblastic lymphoma –– a rare type of blood cancer. Although the cancer is aggressive, prognoses are often positive, as the tumors usually respond well to treatment. However, a few weeks into the therapy, Sarah’s parents withdrew her from the program, arguing that the treatment was unnatural and harmful. Sarah, they said, had begged them to find another option. In response, the hospital filed a successful application to appoint a limited guardian responsible for the girl’s medical decisions.
But in the days following the appellate court’s appointment, Sarah and her family traveled to an alternative treatment center in Central America, where she reportedly received holistic therapy substitutes like herbs and vitamins. Since then, the deeply religious family has been missing. As a result, the court-appointed guardian, Maria Schimer, has decided to drop her attempts to restore the potentially life-saving treatment. “It didn’t make sense to drag this on any longer,” said Clair Dickinson, an attorney for Schimer, who is herself a lawyer and a registered nurse.
Speaking to The Associated Press, the Hershberger’s attorney, Maurice Thompson, said that the parents believe further chemotherapy would only serve to make their daughter sicker. Although the parents risk being held in contempt of court for failing to comply with the order, they are ultimately exercising a moral right, he said. “The judge’s approval of [Schimer’s] resignation will pave the way for the family’s return home, which will allow Sarah to receive the family’s preferred treatment under the best possible conditions.”
Lymphoblastic lymphoma is an aggressive cancer of the blood that typically develops in the lymph nodes, spleen, or bone marrow. Doctors at Akron Children’s Hospital believe they are morally and legally obligated to ensure that Sarah receives the recommended treatment, as she will otherwise die within a year. “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.”