Hospital Battling Amish Family's Decision to End Girl's Chemotherapy

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

ByABC News
August 29, 2013, 2:19 AM

Aug. 29, 2013— -- An Ohio appeals court has sided with a hospital that wants to continue treating a 10-year-old Amish girl with chemotherapy after her parents decided to stop the treatment for her leukemia.

Sarah Hershberger 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.

On Tuesday, an appeals court ruled a juvenile court judge must reconsider the decision that blocked the hospital's attempt to give an attorney, who's also a registered nurse, limited guardianship over Sarah and the power to make medical decisions for her.

Though the Amish typically shy away from modern technology, her father agreed to a phone interview with ABC News.

"We've seen how sick it makes her," Andy Hershberger said. "Our belief is the natural stuff will do just as much as that stuff if it's God's will."

With chemotherapy, Sarah's doctor's say she has an 85 percent chance of survival and without it, she could die within a year.

In a statement to ABC News, Maria Schimer, the hospital attorney lobbying to take over Sarah's care said, "I believe there can be no doubt that it is in her best interest to have chemotherapy and have a chance to live a full life."

Sarah's tumors shrunk after a month of chemotherapy but Hershberger says the side effects became too much for her to handle. In June, the family stopped chemotherapy and began treating Sarah with natural medicines, such as herbs and vitamins.

"She would have more suffering doing chemo than not," Hershberger said.

In July, 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.

As the family waits for the court's final decision, the Hershbergers say they plan to stay away from the hospital and leave their daughter's health in God's hands.

"The state's interest to protect life always [is] compelling and at the end of the day, it will override parent's right," lawyer Brianne DeSellier said, who has no affiliation with this case.