This time the child, a girl, was reared in an Amish home, which means she has virtually no chance of escaping that bizarre religious milieu. It also means she will die. According to Yahoo News, a 10-year-old Amish girl with leukemia has apparently disappeared, probably spirited away by her parents so she wouldn’t receive chemotherapy:
A 10-year-old Amish girl with leukemia and her parents haven’t contacted a guardian appointed two months ago to make medical decisions for the girl after her parents stopped her chemotherapy treatments, the guardian’s attorney said Wednesday.
It’s unclear whether the girl has resumed treatments, and there are indications that the family has left its farm in rural northeast Ohio.
The girl, Sarah Hershberger, has not restarted treatments at Akron Children’s Hospital, said Clair Dickinson, the guardian’s attorney. He said it’s not known whether she is undergoing chemotherapy anywhere else.
Doctors at the Akron hospital believe Sarah’s leukemia is treatable but say she will die without chemotherapy. The hospital went to court after the family decided to stop chemotherapy and treat Sarah with natural medicines, such as herbs and vitamins.
An appeals court ruling in October gave an attorney who’s also a registered nurse limited guardianship over Sarah and the power to make medical decisions for her. The court said the beliefs and convictions of her parents can’t outweigh the rights of the state to protect the child.
The family has appealed the decision to both the appeals court and the Ohio Supreme Court.
Messages seeking comment were left Wednesday with attorneys representing the family.
One of the attorneys, John Oberholtzer, told The Medina Gazette he has been in contact with the family but does not know its whereabouts or whether the girl is being treated.
Dickinson, the guardian’s attorney, said that shortly after the appeals court ruling, a taxi was sent to the family’s home near the village of Spencer in Medina County, about 35 miles southwest of Cleveland. The taxi was to take the Sarah to the hospital in Akron, but someone at the home said the family was not there, Dickinson said.
Sarah’s condition is treatable—indeed, possibly curable—but she asked her parents to stop chemotherapy. Her last chemo session was in June, and according to doctors she will die in less than a year without further treatment. But she’s not competent to make that judgment, and there’s also the possibility of a). religious pressure from her parents and the community influencing her “decision,” and b). the fact that chemo makes one sick, which of course would make a child averse to it. It makes you sick, but often cures you.
And I don’t know how an attorney in good conscience can defend what the Hershbergers are doing. I know everyone deserves representation, but how could a lawyer with a conscience defend parents whose reckless actions will kill their child?
Andy Hershberger, the girl’s father, said this past summer that the family agreed to begin two years of treatments for Sarah last spring but stopped a second round of chemotherapy in June because it was making her extremely sick.
Sarah begged her parents to stop the chemo and they agreed after a great deal of prayer, Hershberger said. The family, members of an insular Amish community, shuns many facets of modern life and is deeply religious.
Hospital officials have said they are morally and legally obligated to make sure the girl receives proper care. They said the girl’s illness, lymphoblastic lymphoma, is an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but there is a high survival rate with treatment.
I didn’t know much about the attitudes of Amish toward medical care, but several sites, including Amish America, note that their attitude toward modern medical care is mixed. Some abjure it; others use it. But in general they use it less than do non-Amish, and often resort to alternative or herbal treatments for religious and cultural reasons. Unfortunately, Sarah Hershberger’s parents apparently belong to the last class, and that will cost her her life.
In An Amish Paradox, Hurst and McConnell detail use of institutional medicine among the various Amish affiliations in the Holmes County, Ohio settlement.
Hurst and McConnell report that Amish are generally less likely to undergo annual checkups or engage in preventative care. A reluctance to go to the doctor can result from various factors, including a desire to avoid needless medical costs, a generally higher pain threshold (as reported by doctors treating the Amish) and a failure to understand the importance of, or reasons for professional treatment.
The authors also note that more conservative Amish are less likely to seek medical care, and more likely to delay treatment, especially when physical symptoms are absent or minimal.
There is something ineffably sad about children like Sarah. By accident of birth they are brought up in families afflicted with religious delusions, and there is no way for them to escape (except, perhaps, during or after the famous Amish Rumspringa, when children get a taste of non-Amish life). They will perpetuate the delusions, and so the cycle continues. And in Sarah’s case, those delusions will take her life. This makes me very angry, and even more so when the religious parents are pretty sanguine about this child abuse, attributing medical-abuse deaths to the will of god. It doesn’t have to be that way. Woo is always bad, but only in religion is it fatal.
Finally, this is relevant but a wee bit off topic: a parody “commercial,” from Upworthy, showing what it would look like if vaccines were advertised like other drugs.
And another addendum: Dr. Edzard Ernst has posted a scathing “tribute” to Prince Charles and the royal’s incessant promotion of quackery and “alternative medicine” (Charles just turned 65).