November 20, 2014

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Hospital battles Amish parents in court

MEDINA — Akron Children’s Hospital plans to file an appeal over the case of a 10-year-old Amish girl whose parents refused her chemotherapy for leukemia.

Probate and Juvenile Judge John J. Lohn denied the hospital’s application for limited guardianship last month. Lohn retired July 1, but continued to serve as a visiting judge until his replacement, Kevin Dunn, was sworn in earlier this month.

Limited guardianship would grant Maria Schimer, a hospital attorney and registered nurse, the right to make medical decisions for the girl, Sarah Hershberger, instead of her parents, Andy and Anna Hershberger, of Homer Township.

Lohn wrote in his July 31 judgment entry that guardianship can be established only if parents are deemed unfit.

“The court cannot deprive these parents of their right to make medical decisions for their daughter because there is not a scintilla of evidence showing the parents are unfit,” Lohn wrote.

“There was no basis in law and no basis in fact to file this action.”

He said the girl’s parents were “caring, attentive, protective and concerned.”

The girl was taken to Akron Children’s Hospital in April with tumors on a kidney and visible ones on her neck and chest, according to court records. Her parents at first consented to chemotherapy, but later rejected it in favor of “natural” medicine — including various herbs and vitamins.

During chemotherapy, the girl’s tumors shrank, but she did not enter remission.

Her parents said they stopped chemotherapy because its effects on their daughter were “horrible” and “terrible.”

“Sarah begged her parents to stop the treatments,” the judge wrote. “Anna said she and Andy could not stand to watch what was happening to their daughter.”

They believed the therapy was killing her, Lohn wrote, and the girl’s mother “prayed for wisdom to discern God’s plan for Sarah.”

Records show the girl told the court during an interview that she didn’t want chemotherapy because it makes her feel ill, it can damage her internal organs, and it will make her infertile.

Schimer’s attorney, Nicholas Capotosto, said the hospital plans to appeal the judge’s decision, but declined to say more.

According to court records, Schimer said the girl continuing to go without chemotherapy could be fatal.

“The plan presented by Sarah’s parents is almost certain to lead to Sarah’s death,” her attorneys wrote. “Every day that goes by without treatment, Sarah’s chance of surviving her cancer is diminished.”

If she undergoes chemotherapy, the hospital said her chance at survival reaches 85 percent.

The attorneys warned the court that without chemotherapy, the girl would be dead in a year.

“While the short-term side effects like nausea, lack of energy and loss of hair, and the potential long-term side effects like organ damage and infertility, cannot be minimized,” hospital attorneys wrote, “the question of Sarah’s treatment is life and death.”

Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or nglunt@medina-gazette.com.