May 30, 2016

Medina
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Attorney: Amish girl who fled country to avoid chemo is cancer-free

A Columbus attorney has announced that a 12-year-old Amish girl is cancer-free, despite courtroom testimony last year from doctors that she would be dead in six months without chemotherapy treatments.

Maurice Thompson, the executive director for the libertarian nonprofit 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, said the girl, Sarah Hershberger, shows no signs of cancer and appears to be healthy.

Sarah Hershberger, second from right, is pictured at her family's roadside stand in Homer Township on Sept. 24. Also pictured are her father and three of her siblings. (PHOTO PROVIDED BY 1851 CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL LAW)

Sarah Hershberger, second from right, is pictured at her family’s roadside stand in Homer Township on Sept. 24. Also pictured are her father and three of her siblings. (PHOTO PROVIDED BY 1851 CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL LAW)

“She had MRIs and bloodwork, and the judge over the last year helped facilitate at least one trip to the Cleveland Clinic. The MRIs did not show any cancer,” Thompson told The Gazette on Friday.

He said the family will continue to treat the girl with less-invasive, alternative medicine.

“Once you have it, you’re never 100 percent out of the woods, whether or not you get chemotherapy,” he said. “I know how she looks isn’t really an indication of whether she has cancer, but she’s looking very healthy.”

When Sarah was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, her parents accepted chemo treatment for her at Akron Children’s Hospital. But Andy and Anna Hershberger, of Homer Township, said they felt the treatments were killing their daughter and ceased her treatments.

Akron Children’s Hospital responded by filing in Medina County Probate Court to obtain “limited guardianship” of the girl, which would grant them the power to make medical decisions for the girl. That’s when doctors testified Sarah would die without chemo treatment.

Probate Judge John J. Lohn, who has since retired, at first ruled the girl’s parents were competent to make their own decisions about their daughter’s health. The case then bounced between probate and appellate courts before Lohn was ordered to appoint a guardian.

Sarah’s family responded by fleeing the country last year to seek alternative treatment in Mexico and Canada. Months later, the hospital relinquished its guardianship.

Thompson said Probate Judge Kevin Dunn — who replaced Lohn when he retired in 2014 — formally terminated Sarah’s guardianship on Sept. 24. Thompson said the judge acknowledged that Sarah, who will turn 13 in November, showed no symptoms of cancer and that she appeared to be healthy.

When contacted by The Gazette several times this week, a spokeswoman for Dunn said the judge had not yet prepared a journal entry regarding the hearing and she declined to confirm any of the events at the hearing. The entry is expected early next week.

In the wake of Sarah’s case, Thompson called on lawmakers to reform Ohio’s laws that grant judges the power to overrule parental decisions regarding their children’s health and well-being.

“It is now time for Ohio’s legislators to protect Ohio families from wayward judges,” the attorney said.

He criticized the legal test that judges relied on in the Hershberger case in order to supersede the Hershbergers’ decision to stop chemotherapy treatments.

“This test allows county judges to overrule health care, educational and other important decisions of suitable Ohio parents,” Thompson said. “In the wake of Sarah’s case, the concept came to be known as ‘medical kidnapping.’ ”

Akron Children’s Hospital declined Thursday to comment on Thompson’s statements.

A representative said, however, that the hospital has established a committee with the Amish community to facilitate better communication regarding health care in the wake of Sarah’s case.

“Family-centered care has long been a tenet at Akron Children’s Hospital. Our care givers strive every day to involve parents in decision making and to respect the cultural differences of our patient families,” the representative said. “We have been updated periodically by Sarah’s family members through this committee and wish Sarah continued good health.”


Nick Glunt About Nick Glunt

Nick Glunt primarily covers courts and crime in Medina County. He served The Gazette from September 2012 to December 2015. Contact him at (330) 721-4048 or via email at nglunt@medina-gazette.com.