Ohio Hospital Can Force Chemo on Amish Girl, Court Says

Without chemotherapy, doctor's say the girl could die within a year.

ByABC News
October 9, 2013, 3:03 AM

Oct. 9, 2013— -- A court today is expected to give an attorney for the Children's Hospital in Akron, Ohio, temporary custody of a 10-year-old Amish girl so she can resume chemotherapy after her parents decided to stop the treatments.

Doctors at the Akron Children's Hospital believe Sarah Hershberger has an 85 percent chance of survival if she receives chemotherapy for leukemia. Without it, they believe she will die within a year.

An appeals court ruling issued Oct. 1 overturned a judge's decision that said keeping the parents from making medical decisions for their daughter would take away their rights.

The appeals court ruled that the hospital's attorney, who's also a registered nurse, should be granted limited guardianship over the girl and the power to make medical decisions for her.

"While we respect the wishes of the parents and believe them to be honest and sincere, we are unwilling to adhere to the wishes of the parents," the appeals court judges wrote.

The ruling said that while adults can refuse medical treatment regardless of the consequences, children do not have those same rights because of their vulnerability and inability to make critical decisions in a mature manner.

Sarah had tumors on her neck, chest and kidneys when her parents initially agreed to chemotherapy at Akron Children's Hospital earlier this year. Her family says the side effects were terrible and they decided to treat her leukemia with natural remedies instead.

"We've seen how sick it makes her," Andy Hershberger, the girl's father, told ABC News in August. "Our belief is the natural stuff will do just as much as that stuff if it's God's will."

The Hershbergers said their daughter complained to them that the chemo made her tired and sick.

"If we do chemotherapy and she would happen to die, she would probably suffer more than if we would do it this way and she would happen to die," he added.

The legal wrangling over Sarah's health began in July when the hospital took the family to court seeking temporary guardianship. The judge in Medina County in northeast Ohio ruled that Sarah's parents had the right to make medical decisions for her because there's no evidence they are unfit.

An Ohio appeals court ruled in August that the a juvenile court judge must reconsider the decision that blocked the hospital's attempt to give the attorney limited guardianship over Sarah and the power to make medical decisions for her.

Last month, the court upheld its original decision and sided with the parents' wishes.

But experts say the appeals court latest ruling to side with the hospital could set a legal precedent for how parents decide their children's medical care.

"When you are talking about life and death, and the real possibility that the treatment will save the child, then things can change," Chief Legal Affairs Anchor for ABC News Dan Abrams said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.