Court Battle Over Parents’ Refusal to Continue Chemotherapy For Young Daughter Finally Ends

Sarah Hershberger, now 12, was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2013 and initially began chemotherapy treatment in Ohio. However, she and her parents decided to stop this treatment before its completion because the treatment made Sarah so sick that her parents believed it might actually kill her. Instead, Sarah and her parents decided to pursue more natural treatments using herbs and vitamins. The doctors at Akron Children’s Hospital tried to persuade Sarah’s parents to continue the chemotherapy treatment because had a high chance of survival if she continued the treatment, but if she stopped, her physician believed she could die within a year.  When Sarah did not resume the chemotherapy treatment, the hospital to sought a court appointed guardian to continue the treatment over the objections of Sarah and her parents.

Although a guardian was initially appointed, an Ohio judge has now decided that this action was inappropriate. The statute used by the hospital to appoint the guardian is used when parents are unsuitable to have custody of their children or when the appointment of a guardian would be in the child’s best interests. In making its decision, the Court indicated that the use of this statute to take away medical decision-making power from parents is unprecedented. Moreover, although the family is Amish, the judge found the parents did not make the decision to stop chemotherapy due to religion. Rather, they fully and thoughtfully made the decision in what they believed to be their daughter’s best interests. Additionally, the judge found that a treatment such this, which would be long-term, unsafe, not sure to succeed, and in the public view, was not appropriate to impose over the objection of the parents.

After a long court proceeding, Sarah and her family affirmed their right to choose whether Sarah must continue the chemotherapy recommended by the hospital. Despite the hospital’s initial concerns, Sarah currently appears to be in good health.



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