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What kind of God would let a 10-year-old girl die?

Do Sarah’s parents have the rights to stop her treatment?

By MELISSA WELLHAM

Sarah Hershberger is 10-years-old and is suffering from a disease called lymphoblastic lymphoma.

Lymphoblastic lymphoma is a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that most frequently affects people who are aged under 35, and has a five year 85% survival rate – if the patient undergoes chemotherapy.

But Sarah’s parents don’t want her to get chemotherapy treatment. Not because they think it will be physically taxing, or ultimately unsuccessful in saving their daughter’s life.

Sarah’s parents don’t wish for her to have treatment because they are Amish.

And now 10-year-old Sarah says that she doesn’t want treatment either.

The Amish faith is a traditionalist (very traditionalist) Christian fellowship, which is well known for their commitment to simple living, understated and modest dress, and their aversion to many of the conveniences of modern life – those conveniences include cars, television and modern medicine. Yes, medicine.

Because of their beliefs, Sarah’s parents have chosen to stop their daughter’s chemotherapy. Instead, they will be turning to natural remedies in the hope of being able to ease her pain. Sarah was undergoing chemotherapy at the beginning of the year but when she became ill with side effects, her parents decided that they should be pursuing alternative routes of treatment.

When Andy and Anna Hershberger first decided to stop their daughter’s chemotherapy, an Ohio Medina County judge ruled that they were legally able to decide what was medically best for their child. This was ultimately their decision; not the doctors.

amish kids
Amish children. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

Sarah had to testify in court herself and said that she asked her parents to stop the chemotherapy treatments. Despite being only 10-years-old, this little girl’s faith is steadfast and she believes chemotherapy would be against God’s wishes. .

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Sarah’s father, Andy Hershberger told the press, “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.”

Sarah’s parents told the court that they planed to use herbs and vitamins to fight Sarah’s cancer instead.

The hospital where Sarah was previously being treated are desperate to be able to conduct the potentially life saving medical procedures and have since appealed the original court’s decision. And won.

And now: with only one stage of appeal left, the legal process is at a stalemate.

Sarah’s parents are planning on taking the case all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, where regardless of the ultimate decision, they may set a new precedent about who should be responsible for medical decisions concerning children; particularly when it’s a ‘life or death’ situation.

Sarah’s parents’ attorney told news site WKYC: “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 … They absolutely have that faith.”

The Akron Children’s Hospital downplayed the ideological clash in a statement, and said that they were in no way trying to diminish Andy and Anna’s rights as parents. The statement read simply: “This involves a disagreement between providers and parents over what course of treatment is best for their child.”

The statement continued:

Our goal is to ensure that this child, like all children in our care, receives the most appropriate care, based on scientific evidence. Chemotherapy presents children with lymphoblastic lymphoma with their best, and essentially only, hope for survival.

The case is reminiscent of one that took place in Australia earlier this year, when a 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness – known only as ‘X’ – was forced to have a blood transfusion, after the NSW Supreme Court ruled that the teenager must undergo the potentially lifesaving procedure. Neither the teenager, nor his parents, wanted him to receive treatment.

As in the case of the teenaged Jehovah’s Witness, Sarah is still a minor. She is a child. Yes, she stood up in a court and said she did not want to receive chemotherapy treatment. But she is also 10-years-old. She cannot possibly understand what that means; how final a decision that might turn out to be.

Some have argued that Sarah’s parents are also unable to make a decision objectively. Their faith and their religion are the defining tenants of their life. But Amish faith is by default distrustful of modern conveniences and advances. The parents are biased against chemotherapy – which might save their daughter’s life – from the outset.

Ultimately, it beggars belief to think that by denying their daughter chemotherapy, the Hershbergers are fulfilling the principles of their faith. Because surely, what kind of God would not want parents to try and save their 10-year-old daughter’s life?

Do you think parents should have the final say about medical treatment of their child, or should doctors and hospital be trusted to make the best decision?

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