Parents Could Lose Custody of Child Over Failure to Treat

A custody battle between an Ohio family and a hospital has sparked a national debate over who should have the final say in providing lifesaving treatment to minors.

The case at hand involves an Amish family that decided to take their 10-year-old daughter off of a chemotherapy regimen designed to treat her leukemia diagnosis because they wanted to pursue holistic methods.

Andy Hershberger, the father of 10-year-old Sarah, said the family stepped in after they saw the way their daughter responded to chemotherapy.

“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,” said Hershberger.

They have since begun treating their daughter with natural medicines, and they have sought out another doctor.

Not Everyone Agrees

Religious and personal beliefs are often the basis of many decisions made by parents in the best interest of their child, but should others intervene if the child’s life is at stake? That’s exactly what one registered nurse, who also happens to be an attorney, did for the 10-year-old.

The nurse filed a petition to assume limited guardianship of the girl so she can get Sarah back in chemotherapy. Doctors already stated that Sarah’s form of leukemia is treatable, but without the therapy, she would die within a year. The petition sparked a back-and-forth legal battle that’s still working its way through the court system.

A judge in Medina County in northeast Ohio ruled that the parents had the final say in deciding what medical treatment to pursue for their daughter, but an appeals court came to a different conclusion. The appeals court said the initial judge failed to consider Sarah’s best interests, and ordered the judge to reconsider the first ruling.

Minnesota’s Role

The case has made national news, but similar stories out of Minnesota have given the story some local flavor.

In 2012, a Minnesota mother wanted to use natural healing methods after doctors removed a cancerous brain tumor from her 8-year-old daughter. She said the doctors would not allow it, because her daughter’s life was still in danger, and she was informed that if she refused the treatment, the state could assume custody.

“I had no options,” said Karen Parisian. “There was no way I wanted to have a sheriff come and take my child away from me.”

A similar situation unfolded in 2009, when another Minnesota mother fled the state with her child after a court ordered that her son needed to undergo chemotherapy even though the mother wanted to pursue holistic methods. She eventually returned to Minnesota, and after successful chemotherapy sessions, her son was declared to be cancer-free.

All three cases are similar in nature, but Leonard Glantz, a professor of health at Boston University, said all parties would be better off if they focused on the child instead of their personal beliefs.

“People see this is as a parent’s rights issue, but we fail to see this is a child’s rights issue,” said  Glantz. “The person of importance and focus is the child.

Family Law Attorney Katie Lammers comments

In Minnesota there is a presumption that both parents should share joint legal custody, that is, that each parent should have a say when making major decisions in the child’s life including decisions regarding medical care. In the event the parents disagree on a particular course of treatment, they may seek relief from the court, who will make a decision about what treatment the court believes is in the best interest of the child.

Things get more complicated when both parents or guardians wish to refuse lifesaving medical treatment. The county where the child lives could make a finding of maltreatment against a parent who fails to secure proper medical care for his or her child. A child protection case could be opened, and if a parent fails to remedy the situation, the county could file a petition alleging that the child is in need of protective services and social services could take on the decision making role for the child. In extreme cases, a parent’s rights could be terminated for medical neglect, and sometimes this measure involves other concerns such as physical or sexual abuse.

The state has determined that it has an interest in providing medical care to minors. This is considered by some to be in contrast with the long line of case law coming from states to the United States Supreme Court that the parents of the child have a constitutional right to make decisions regarding the upbringing of their children. However this case goes, I certainly hope Sarah gets the care she needs.

Related source: KTSP.com

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