June 30, 2016

Mostly clear

Amish family’s return hinges on decision

Staff and wire reports

An Amish couple who fled their Homer Township home with their 11-year-old daughter so she wouldn’t be forced to get chemotherapy could be home for the holidays, but not without a favorable decision from a judge, their lawyer said.

Attorney Maurice Thompson said he hopes the judge will issue a ruling soon on medical guardianship of Sarah Hershberger and she and her family can return to their Spencer Road farm in time for Christmas.

Thompson represents the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a nonprofit headquartered in Columbus that filed a brief with the Ohio Supreme Court in support of the family.

Thompson said the girls’ parents, Andy and Anna Hershberger, ended treatment because it was making their daughter so sick they feared it could kill her. Instead, they decided to treat Sarah with natural medicines, such as herbs and vitamins.

“They won’t be coming home until the guardianship is no longer in effect,” Thompson said Tuesday.

When that will happen is unclear.

On Monday, Medina County Probate Judge Kevin W. Dunn said he is not sure he has the jurisdiction to accept the resignation of a guardian he appointed to make medical decisions about cancer treatment for the girl.

Dunn said jurisdiction is in doubt because the parents appealed the case to the Ohio Supreme Court.

“The court is not convinced it retains the authority to entertain the resignation filed by the limited guardian,” the judge wrote in a journal entry.

The “limited guardian,” Maria Schimer, an attorney who’s also a registered nurse, was appointed in October after the 9th District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Akron Children’s Hospital, which argued that the girl will die within a year without chemotherapy.

The court stated the beliefs and convictions of the girl’s parents can’t outweigh the rights of the state to protect the child.

The Hershbergers took their daughter to Akron Children’s Hospital in April. But the family stopped the chemotherapy because of the severity of the side effects.

The family has not been seen by authorities since at least October.

David Augenstein, who publishes the online Journal of Natural Food and Health, told The Gazette last month that the family fled the country to seek alternative treatment shortly before the appellate court’s ruling but has since returned to the U.S. to an undisclosed location.

“I know they are in the United States,” said Augenstein, who lives in Stark County. He said he contacted the family after seeing news accounts of the case.

Clair Dickinson, an attorney for the guardian, has said the family says Sarah is cancer-free as a result of natural treatments.

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