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Their daughter’s only chance was chemotherapy. Instead, her parents gave her this.

Tamar

Tamar Stitt is dead.

The 10-year-old died in 2009, just months after she was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer. And now it is up to the Perth Coroner’s Court to decide whether or not Tamar’s death could have been prevented.

Because there’s more to this story than just a tragic loss of life….

When Tamar was initially diagnosed with liver cancer, doctors told her parents Trevor and Arely Stitt that their daughter needed to undergo seven weeks’ worth of chemotherapy. That therapy, the doctors said, would give Tamar a 50-60% chance of survival.

But Trevor and Arely Stitt chose ignore doctors’ advice. This from the ABC’s coverage of the inquest:

Oncologist Angela Alessandri testified that after Tamar was diagnosed with liver cancer in Perth she had numerous conversations with her father stressing that his daughter needed chemotherapy as soon as possible.

However, she said Trevor Stitt eventually told her the family wanted to use “natural therapies” to treat Tamar. She said the last time she spoke to Mr Stitt he told her Tamar and her mother had left Australia, so there was no need to pursue any treatment plans.

Mr and Mrs Stitt

That is when Perth’s Princess Margret Children’s Hospital asked the Supreme Court to intervene. After hearing all the evidence, the West Australian Supreme Court made a formal order that the family submit to doctors recommendations and have Tamar treated as recommended.

But instead of complying with the court, the Stitts chose to flee Australia, returning to Arely’s home country of El Salvador. They were able to do so with the help of Dr Alastair Nuttall, who gave the family a medical certificate indicating that their daughter was fit to fly overseas.

This from The West Australian, following Mr Nuttall’s appearance at the inquest:

The inquest was told the Stitts approached Dr Alastair Nuttall in the hours before they were due to go to court to ask him for a fitness to fly certificate for their daughter.

Dr Nuttall said after he was given the background to the case, he signed the certificate, which allowed Tamar to leave the country. “The family felt they had been corralled into a position of making a desperate decision,” Dr Nuttall said. “The parents clearly felt threatened by (the doctors).”

It was in El Salvador that Channel 7’s Rahni Sadler met with the Stitt family back in 2009. That interview was aired last night in an episode of Sunday Night.

Tamar Stitt in 2009 in El Salvador.

At the time of the interview, Trevor and Arely Stitt were treating their daughter’s liver cancer with herbal tea and clay, using red clay gathered from the hills around Tamar’s uncles home in El Salavdor’s capital city, San Salvador.

Twice a day, Tamar’s torso was wrapped in clay, which Mrs Stitt believed was “basically the right medicine for any kind of illness.”

“What it does, it dries up anything that is causing the illness in your system – all the toxics,” she told channel 7. “We never agreed for Tamar to have chemo. Because we’ve seen so many cases and knowing what we know about natural remedies, they work slowly but it’s worth it,” she said.

Mr and Mrs Stitt explained that the teachings came from a book that had been in their family for many years. The book’s translated title was Health and Cure with Herbs and it was stories from this book that had led them to conclude alternative therapies were the best option for their daughter.

As to whether the family had proof of this treatment plan’s success? Trevor Stitt said they had put their faith in God and that Tamar’s fate would be decided by God’s will.

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“Because he made us. He can take us as well,” Trevor said.

The clay therapy was unsuccessful. And as Tamar grew weaker, the family changed their mind and opted to try chemotherapy in a desperate final bid save their daughter’s life.

But just two weeks after doctors started with chemotherapy, Tamar passed away. And now, four years later, the courts are trying to decide whether it was her parents’ actions (or omissions) that contributed to Tamar’s death.

Tamar in El Salvador, one of the poorest countries in the world.

Appearing in court last week, Mr Stitt said that he and his wife “did what (they) thought was right at the time”.

Answering the question of whether Mr and Mrs Stitt placed their “right to make choices for Tamar over her right to live,” Mr Stitt said “I do not agree. We wanted what we believed was best for our daughter.”

A childhood cancer expert told the court this week that Tamar would have had a 60% chance of survival had she undergone chemotherapy immediately after her diagnosis.

According the ABC, Professor Stewart Kellie said the alternative therapies should only be used in conjunection with more traditional treatments.

“You can have faith, but you also need your chemotherapy, you can do yoga or have meditation or a good diet, but you also need effective curative treatment,” he said.

Now, it is true that conventional Western medicine can be absolutely brutal. It can require surgery, it can require drugs that savage the body. And for the Stitts, it would have meant putting their child through things no parent would never want to put your child through.

But – it works.

Unlike natural remedies, Western medicine is the only tool we have that we know can reliably save people from cancer. If you, as an adult, decide that you don’t want to go through the trauma of therapy for the chance of survival, that’s your choice. But you can’t make that choice for a child.

Even if it’s brutal, even if it feels awful, even if it’s the hardest thing they’ll ever experience, when it’s a child’s life at stake, you have to give that child the best possible chance they have at making it to adulthood.

Your child’s life is not yours to play with. It’s their own. It is your job to safeguard their life – no matter how hard it may seem – until they are old enough to choose what they want to do with it.

Safeguarding that life means choosing the options that are supported by evidence. It means choosing the only reliable path.