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Court Rules That Sarah Hershberger, Amish Girl Battling Cancer, Should Be Appointed Legal Guardian After Parents Stop Her Chemotherapy

Amish kids
Deeply religious, an Amish family chose to stop their daughter's chemotherapy and turn to natural medicine in the hopes of easing her pain. Wikimedia Commons

After an Ohio Medina County judge ruled that Andy and Anna Hershberger, the parents of a 10-year-old girl, had the right to choose what was medically best for her, an appeals court reversed the decision and sided with a hospital that is fighting to resume her chemotherapy after her parents terminated the treatment.

The Hershbergers are a deeply religious Amish family, who chose to take a different route from modern medicine after Sarah became ill from chemotherapy in June. The girl reportedly begged her parents to stop her chemotherapy and testified in court against resuming the treatment.

“Our belief is, to a certain extent, we can use modern medicine, but at some times we have to stop it and do something else,” her father told the AP.

They plan on going to a wellness center and turning to natural medication such as herbs and vitamins in the hopes that they could help her without putting her in pain. Akron Children’s Hospital, where Sarah had begun her chemotherapy, strongly advocated for the girl to continue her chemo, stating that it was a matter of life or death.

Sarah has lymphoblastic lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that rarely affects adults but is most often found in people under 35. It is reported to have a five-year survival rate of 85 percent if the patient undergoes chemotherapy. Lymphoma is a blood cancer that occurs when white blood cells divide faster than regular cells, causing tumors of lymphoid cells to grow throughout the body, typically in lymph nodes.

"Although there's all these dire medical predictions they (Sarah's parents) would refute that by saying this is matter beyond the province of mortal man," the Hershbergers' attorney John Oberholtzer told WKYC.  "You have to have a kind of faith that a lot of us don't have...they absolutely have that faith."

He added that Sarah’s parents might take the case to the Ohio Supreme Court, and that it could potentially set a legal precedence with regards to who should hold the rights over a child’s medical decisions when it’s a life or death situation.

“There has never been an allegation of parental unfitness, nor has the hospital or anyone else requested legal or physical custody of this child,” Akron Children’s Hospital said in a statement. “This involves a disagreement between providers and parents over what course of treatment is best for their child.”

The hospitals' chief medical officer Robert McGregor said last week that they had a moral and legal duty to ensure that Sarah receives the treatment that is in her best interest.

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