Parents, State Battle Over Boy With Cancer

ByABC News via logo

Aug. 29, 2003 -- — A 12-year-old boy remains in hiding with his mother while authorities in Utah battle to have him returned to undergo court-ordered chemotherapy to treat what they say is deadly bone cancer.

Daren and Barbara Jensen fled Utah with their son, Parker, on Aug. 8, after the state ordered that the cancer-stricken boy be placed in state custody so that he can receive chemotherapy.

On Aug. 15, Utah prosecutors filed kidnapping charges against the couple. Daren Jensen was arrested Aug. 16 in Idaho, where he is now fighting extradition to Utah. The whereabouts of Parker and his mother are unknown.

The story began three months ago, when Parker was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a deadly form of bone cancer. Doctors at Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City said Parker needs chemotherapy, and that he has only a 5 percent chance of survival without it. A Salt Lake City court agreed, and ordered the parents to have the boy undergo the treatment.

But the boy's family disagreed. They question the accuracy of the test that led to his cancer diagnosis, said Parker's uncle, Tracy Jensen.

"Ewing's sarcoma normally appears in the bone, but Parker's was a tumor in the mouth," Jensen said. "The hospital wanted chemotherapy right away. But we wanted a second opinion. They wouldn't let us get one, and before you knew it, my brother and his family were on the run."

Rick Jaffe, the family lawyer, contends that life-and-death decisions, such as whether to undergo chemotherapy, should be made by a child's parents, not the state. The parents did allow Parker to undergo surgery to have the tumor removed, but they do not believe he needs chemotherapy at this point.

"There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that you need chemotherapy for this particular kind of basically mild cancer," Jaffe said. "All the evidence really relates to this full-blown bone involvement where you have very sick kids."

He said that the hospital and the state have interfered with the parents getting an objective second opinion to see if their belief that Parker has the mild form of the cancer is confirmed.

"They have the best intentions for Parker and want to figure out the exact treatment for this," Tracy Jensen said. "They want to sit down in an environment where they can talk about this. This is a very rare form of Ewing's sarcoma, which has manifested itself in the soft tissue in the mouth and they say it's a bone disease."

The Jensens have located a pediatric oncologist who will treat and evaluate Parker, Jaffe said.

"The problem is, we can't bring him to him, because as soon as we show up, the mother will be arrested and the child hauled off by force to Utah," the lawyer said.

He also said Parker appears healthy.

"I'm not a doctor, but he looks healthy. He looks normal," Jaffe said. "He doesn't look sick and he doesn't look like any cancer patient I have ever seen. He looks like a great normal kid with a normal energy level for a 12-year-old boy."

State Says It Wants to Protect Parker

The Utah Attorney General's Office says it is concerned about Parker's welfare, and that the state has every right to step in to protect a child.

"We are very concerned with the health of this young boy and the surrounding issues of state power vs. parental responsibility," the office said in a statement. "Parents have a natural and fundamental right to direct the medical care of their child — but if in making that decision they place the child's very life in substantial danger, the Supreme Court has determined that the State has an obligation to step in. In other words, a child has a fundamental right, independent of a parent's wishes, to live."

Tracy Jensen says the family fears that Parker will only get worse, and may even die, if he is subjected to chemotherapy.

"Chemotherapy is a horrible and painful thing to deal with, especially for a child," he said. "It may also leave him sterile and stunt his growth. We want other options. And we fear it will take him to the brink of death, and we don't want that, especially when there is no evidence that his cancer is what the doctors say it is."

Parents Barred From Hospital

The legal charges against the parents have complicated the issue, Jaffe said. If his mother tries to bring Parker to any hospital, she will be arrested, he said.

"They [the parents] are fugitives from the law and they will be handcuffed, and Parker will be taken back to Utah and undergo chemotherapy," Jaffe said.

The family would like Parker to take genetic and blood tests, Tracy Jensen said. They do not want to rush and have chemotherapy if there is no evidence the cancer is still there.

Jaffe says the best solution for everyone would be for the police to drop the charges and allow the family to return to Utah so that Parker could undergo other tests at another hospital.

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