When an 11-year old Amish girl, Sarah Hershberger, was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, an aggressive form of lymphoma in 2013, her parents, Andy and Anna Hershberger, initially agreed to chemotherapy treatments. When she decided she didn’t want any more chemotherapy because of the side effects however, her parents decided to opt out of chemotherapy treatments, fearing that the treatments themselves might eventually lead to her death.
And that is when the trouble really started…
Officials at Akron Children’s Hospital responded with a legal attempt to strip Sarah’s parents of their right to choose their daughter’s medical treatment by petitioning the court to obtain “limited guardianship” over her so that they would have the authority over medical decisions pertaining to her instead of her parents. According to doctors at the hospital, Sarah would die within 6 months without chemotherapy.
Probate Judge John L. Lohn (now retired) ruled that Sarah’s parents were competent to make medical decisions on their daughter’s behalf, but her was unfortunately overruled by a higher court decision and was ordered to appoint a guardian for Sarah.
The Hershberger Family responded by fleeing the country to avoid court-mandated chemotherapy, choosing instead to seek alternative medical treatment in Canada and Mexico that included high dose vitamin C and B17 (the latter a.k.a. as Laetrile), oxygen therapy, detoxification methods, and IV chelation therapy, as well as a special diet. After a few months, with no point to pursuing the matter further, the hospital decided to relinquish guardianship.
“[The chemotherapy] was really good, but stopping at that point was the best investment we did,” says Andy Hershberger, Sarah’s father.
“We were pretty sure we were going to lose her if we kept doing the chemo,” says Anna Hershberger, Sarah’s mother. The Hershbergers wanted to pursue a more natural treatment, then return to the chemotherapy if necessary.
“We were in Mexico three weeks,” says Sarah’s uncle, Isaac Hershberger. “We had to leave because if we stayed in the U.S., any hospital in the U.S. would report right back to Akron Children’s”.
In a report in the Medina Gazette, of Medina County, Ohio, Maurice Thompson, head of the libertarian non-profit group 1852 Center for Constitutional Law, said that according to MRIs and blood work done at the Cleveland Clinic, young Sarah Hershberger now shows no signs of cancer and appears to be healthy.
The Hershbergers didn’t provide specifics about Sarah’s “alternative” treatment, but she seems to be doing well. She may be feeling better because of the first chemotherapy treatment, or the alternative treatment, or a combination. We don’t know what Sarah’s future holds, but Thompson says that because the family is more than suitable, Sarah’s treatment should be left entirely to their discretion.
“Having a free society means that people need to be free to take risks, including risks with their family when they are suitable and loving parents who will take those risks out of a position of love and belief,” says Thompson. “It’s one thing for society, government, for experts to overrule parents who are abusive, or who are neglectful or who perhaps lack the capacity to properly care for their children, and it’s imperative to emphasize that none of those are the case here.”
“If we could just be left alone, that’s what we’re asking for,” says Isaac Hershberger.
Probate Judge Kevin Dunn — who replaced Lohn when he retired in 2014 — formally terminated Sarah’s guardianship on September 24, acknowledging that Sarah, who will turn 13 in November, showed no symptoms of cancer and that she appeared to be healthy.”
Disclaimer: ReasonTV visited the Hershbergers in Homerville, Ohio. Amish law precludes formal interview settings, but the Hershbergers spoke with ReasonTV at length about Sarah’s case and allowed us to record them.
Sarah’s family is continuing to treat her with less invasive alternative medicine because, “Once you have it, you’re never 100 percent out of the woods, whether or not you get chemotherapy.”
Thompson has since called on Ohio lawmakers to reform rules that give judges the authority to overrule parental health care decisions involving their children, saying “It is now time for Ohio’s legislators to protect Ohio families from wayward judges.”
Thompson lashed out against the legal test that are typically utilised by judges in cases like Sarah’s to circumvent parental authority in decisions involving their children’s health and well-being.
“This test allows county judges to overrule health care, educational and other important decisions of suitable Ohio parents,” Thompson said. “In the wake of Sarah’s case, the concept came to be known as ‘medical kidnapping.’ ”
This case certainly brings to the fore the question “How far should governments/courts be allowed to interfere in a parent’s authority over their offspring regarding the type of medical treatment they undergo?“
There are many who argue on both sides – those who think that alternative medicine is just quackery and that only scientifically based medications are good enough; then there are those who feel that many of the current cancer treatments are actually worse than the cancer itself and that it is actually these treatments and not the cancer that kills, and that it is better to use natural methods that do not have ongoing and long-term side effects and after-effects.
Please note that the Little Fighters Cancer Trust shares information regarding various types of cancer treatments on this blog merely for informational use. LFCT does not endorse or promote any specific cancer treatments – we believe that the public should be informed but that the option is theirs to take as to what treatments are to be used. Always consult your medical practitioner prior to taking any other medication, natural or otherwise.