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article imageJudge rules and orders treatment in religious child neglect case

By Bart B. Van Bockstaele     May 16, 2009 in World
Daniel Hauser is a 13-year old boy with cancer who is refusing treatment for religious reasons. A judge has now decided that he is medically neglected and must undergo treatment.
Cases like this are highly controversial and often serve to polarise the public in two main camps: those who claim that religion should not be allowed to take precedence over established medical procedures and those who claim that freedom of religion trumps any other consideration.
In its summary memorandum, the court has found that the petition that alleges that Daniel Hauser is a child in need of protection or service has been proved by clear and convincing evidence. The court has also found that BCFS has demonstrated sufficient interest in Daniel's life and welfare to override the fundamental rights of both the parents and Daniel with respect to freedom of religion.
What are the facts according to the order?
In the beginning of the year, Daniel Hauser was suffering from stage IIB nodular sclerosing Hodgkin's disease, a treatable cancer. The current stage is unknown, but available evidence suggests it is not in remission.
On 5 February 2009, a first round of chemotherapy was started with the consent of Daniel and his mother. The cancer responded well, but Daniel and his parents were concerned about the adverse side effects. They sought different opinions and ended up with 5 different medical doctors all recommending the treatment. Chances of surviving for 5 years are 80-95% with the treatment and very small without it.
The family has genuine and strong belief in holistic medicine, specifically in Nemenhah. Daniel refuses to receive additional chemotherapy. Although Daniel is said to be a medicine man and an elder in Nemenhah, Daniel does not know what an elder is, nor is he able to say how he became a medicine man, or what this means. Daniel cannot read.
The Hauser family member have a constitutional right to freedom of belief. The parents have the constitutional right to parent their child. Only compelling state interest can overcome these rights, and there is hardly anything more compelling than protecting the life of a child.
The legislation of Minnesota requires that parents provide "necessary medical care" for a child and also that alternology is not sufficient.
Daniel's parents love him and he loves them, so the court thinks that Daniel should remain with his parents, on the condition that they give him the treatment he needs in compliance with the minimum standards of parental care provided by Minnesota law.
The affidavits Daniel had signed, were clearly not his creation, which is disturbing. Daniel cannot even recognize the word "the" and although he is 13 years old, he is enrolled in 5th grade and his reading and writing skills are significantly below that level.
The mother and Daniel did not object to the first chemotherapy round on religious grounds and the mother would agree to additional chemotherapy "if it was life or death".
The follows a long list of medical opinions by medical experts and/or doctors, all of whom agree that chemotherapy and possibly radiotherapy are the treatment that must be followed. One of these doctors was Dr. Healey, identified by Daniel's mother as Daniel's current health care provider. However, Dr. Healey has never even met Daniel, let alone examined him.
Shiree Oliver, Daniel's Guardian ad Litem, says that Daniel gave her short answers, often looking at his mother before answering. She thinks that Daniel does not understand what chemotherapy is, other than that it makes him feel sick. She thinks he is afraid of chemotherapy because he has been told that his aunt died from chemotherapy, and she thinks that counseling for Daniel and the family would be helpful in this respect.
Because of the lack of medical care, and the current unknown status of the mediastinal mass, it may already be too late for chemotherapy to be useful for Daniel. In that case, the court will retract its order to proceed with chemotherapy.
What is the conclusion?
The court has ordered an X-ray exam, which must be sent to the relevant care providers and the BCFS, and they must select an oncologist to see Daniel for further treatment. The matter will then be reviewed in court on 19 May 2009.
More about Daniel hauser, Hodgkin disease, Religious extremism
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