August 31, 2014

Medina
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Judge accepts guardian’s resignation in Amish medical case

Nick Glunt and Loren Genson | The Gazette
A Medina County judge Thursday accepted the resignation of a woman appointed to make medical decisions for an 11-year-old Amish girl with cancer whose parents refused to continue chemotherapy.

The family at first accepted chemotherapy from Akron Children’s Hospital, but stopped in April because they believed the treatments were killing her.

In response, the hospital sued to have Maria Schimer, a nurse who also is an attorney, appointed a limited guardian.

Andy Hershberger leads family and Amish deacons to a hearing at the Medina County Courthouse on Thursday afternoon. The Hershbergers have been fighting a lengthy court battle with Akron Children's Hospital over who can make medical decisions for Andy's 11-year-old daughter, Sarah. (KRISTIN BAUER / GAZETTE)

Andy Hershberger leads family and Amish deacons to a hearing at the Medina County Courthouse on Thursday afternoon. The Hershbergers have been fighting a lengthy court battle with Akron Children’s Hospital over who can make medical decisions for Andy’s 11-year-old daughter, Sarah. (KRISTIN BAUER / GAZETTE)

Schimer was appointed in October after several months of legal battles involving the 9th District Court of Appeals.

But after the family fled the country, Schimer asked in December to be allowed to relinquish her guardianship, arguing that her efforts were futile.

In court Thursday, county Probate Judge Kevin W. Dunn accepted Schimer’s resignation.

“If I thought there was any way that I could save this little girl’s life, I wouldn’t be doing this,” Schimer said through tears. “Maybe now someone else can step in who has a better rapport with the family.”

Under questioning from attorneys and the judge, Schimer said she met the child, Sarah Hershberger, only in the courtroom.

The girl’s parents, Andy and Anna Hershberger, failed to bring the girl to any of the cost-free treatments ordered under her guardianship and fled the state.

“Though they advised they sought medical treatment in another country and another state, they have provided no evidence of treatment,” Schimer told the judge. “She may appear happy and she may appear healthy, but we don’t know what’s going on inside.”

Maurice Thompson, the Hershbergers’ attorney, said the girl is recovering after seeking treatment in Canada, Mexico and Tennessee and now appears to be healthy.

Thompson said he plans to file a motion to eliminate the guardianship or to get a family member appointed as guardian.

“Either way is a result we’d be satisfied with,” said Thompson, executive director of the libertarian 1851 Center for Constitutional Law in Columbus.

Thompson said the Hershbergers haven’t ruled out chemotherapy for their daughter if her cancer gets worse.

“It’s not that they’re opposed to medical treatment,” he said. “They just felt it was killing her.”

Thompson said the family returned to their Homer Township home a few weeks ago. He said Sarah’s once-visible tumors are now gone and she has responded well to the treatments she received — including a scan performed on the girl in Mexico showing positive results.

Akron Children’s Hospital physicians testified during hearings in the summer that the girl would be dead by April or earlier if she did not get chemotherapy.

At those hearings, the girl’s parents said they were treating their daughter with “natural” medicine like herbs and vitamins.

Thompson said he’s not a doctor, but he believes the Hershbergers are working hard to get medical care for Sarah.

“They’re aggressively seeking treatment for their daughter,” Thompson said. “She’s trending upwards and she’s nowhere close to dead.”

He said the Hershbergers plan to make an appointment with a local conventional doctor now that the family has returned home.

Thompson said he will continue his defense of the Hershbergers before the Ohio Supreme Court and the 9th District Court of Appeals, where he in January filed a brief arguing that the appointment of a guardian was unconstitutional.

Thompson said it’s important to get the initial appeals court ruling overturned to protect the rights of parents to oversee medical care for their children.

“As long as that ruling is on the books, every parent has a threat of losing their child-rearing ability,” Thompson said. “It’s a dangerous precedent.”

Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or nglunt@medina-gazette.com.
Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.