Guardian Drops Attempt to Enforce Chemo on Amish Girl

News came Friday that an 11-year-old Amish leukemia patient will not be forced to undergo chemotherapy, pending court approval (article no longer online).

Maria Schimer filed Friday to resign her limited guardianship over Sarah Hershberger:

But the guardian, Maria Schimer, decided to drop the effort because she doesn’t know where Sarah is now and it has become impossible to monitor her health or make any medical decisions, said Clair Dickinson, an attorney for Schimer.

“It didn’t make sense to drag this on any longer,” he said.

It sounds like the hospital is on board with the move:

Dickinson said an attorney for the hospital told him that if the court allows Schimer to withdraw from the case, the hospital won’t continue its legal push to get chemotherapy for the girl.

The family fled the country in September, later returning to “an undisclosed location outside Ohio”.  Though the family is of a traditional Amish community, this doesn’t mean that they refuse conventional medicine:

Sarah’s father said the family doesn’t oppose modern medicine and that they didn’t make their decision based on religious reasons.

They ended chemotherapy because it was making her too sick and they feared it could end up killing her, the family’s attorney, Maurice Thompson, said.

Approval is expected to be given next week.  It sounds like the state side of this matter realized it was a lost cause to pursue chemo.  Reports from Sarah’s side are that she is well following “natural treatments, including vitamins and herbs.

No news will be good news

Following the move, Schimer’s attorney wished Sarah well, thought not without a hint of skepticism:

“If she is, that’s great,” Dickinson said.

“On the other hand, the undisputed medical testimony was that she would die in six months to a year without treatment.

“If she’s not cancer-free, it may be too late for chemotherapy to help her.”

The case has predictably gotten a lot of attention and has stirred emotion on both sides of the divide.  Backers of the Hershbergers have applauded the decision:

“The Judge’s approval of this Resignation will pave the way for the family’s return home, which will allow Sarah to receive the family’s preferred treatment under the best possible conditions,” continued Thompson. “We hope that this Resignation also seals one of the darkest moments for parental rights and health care freedom in the State’s history: a court ordering a little girl to be ripped away from her loving and competent parents, and forced to submit to procedures that could kill or sterilize her, simply because her parents sought to first pursue a less invasive treatment option – – one the hospital disagreed with because it did not itself provide it.”

Skeptics from the medical community are less optimistic about her chances:

If the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law is correct and the parents now seem nearly certain to prevail, Sarah Hershberger will almost certainly die, unless she happens to be one of the lucky minority of children with this form of cancer whose tumor not only went into complete remission after two rounds of chemotherapy, but doesn’t recur in a more resistant form, as most such cancers do. As I’ve pointed out time and time again in cases like this, oncologists don’t use a two year course of chemotherapy because they like to torture children. They use a two year course of chemotherapy because that’s what it takes to produce the 85% five year survival that the current standard of care for lymphoblastic lymphoma can produce.

Debates aside, if this is the last we hear of it, that will probably mean good news for Sarah.

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    1. Nancy

      It’s unfortunate the family had to go to such measures to enforce what they felt was the best (although extremely difficult) decision about their daughter’s medical care.

      I wish them well.

    2. Slightly-Handled-Order-Man

      I sort of wish that hospitals would take a more lenient position on the wishes of their patients and of patients families.

      I think we all should pray for Sarah and her wellbeing one way or another.

    3. Debbie H

      Sometimes things are better left in God’s hands. I pray that Sarah and her family have a blessed and happy life together however long that may be. Quality of life is more important than quantity. My husband has terminal cancer and has decided no more treatment for that very reason.

    4. Christy

      Jesus could heal Sarah’s body if it’s his will. We don’t always understand but that’s why we have Jesus to guide us.

    5. This is so sad but I stand behind the parents rights, ANY persons rights, to treat or not treat however they see fit.

      My sister had a severely invasive breast cancer.. but her doctor told her with tears in her eyes, that they had killed her with their chemo..She died a week later. So much for it being so great!

    6. Tina Loveless

      It is hard to watch our loved ones become ill as we powerless to help. Only those who have had to go through anytime of treatment for their cancer should be able to make the decision whether or not they would want to go through it again. I have watch family and friends battle cancer and have watched what their treatment did to them they always said I wont go through this again and we must support that decision because in the end God is our ultimate healer.

      Thank you

    7. City Slicker

      This wasn’t a case where “the village” or the “nanny nation” had an obligation to step in and take action in order to save a child who was being neglected by her parents. Sarah Hershberger lives surrounded by love.
      It was rather a case of “we know better than you; therefore your beliefs, feelings, and opinions don’t count”. The hospital couldn’t guarantee a cure, and their attempts may well have put the child and her family through hell here on earth.
      Prayers for ALL concerned.

      “Man proposes, God disposes”

    8. Vannetta Chapman

      quantity vs quality

      It seems mainstream culture puts an emphasis on QUANTITY of life versus QUALITY of life. 85% chance of 5 more years? And what will those 5 years be like? A very tough decision. I know what I would choose personally, but of course a child can’t decide — which is why its the decision of her parents.

      Our prayers go out to all involved–

    9. Wondercat

      None of us gets out of here alive

      We all die.

      Sarah will — by the odds — die earlier than she might have done if she had never developed cancer (but there’s always a semi over the next hill as she walks to school; His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are higher than ours; if we manage to frustrate the Lord’s purposes by employing chemotherapy, He always has that semi in his back pocket); she will die earlier than if she had received doctor-proposed treatment. By the odds.

      If one believes that God sets up the odds and then elects to change the rules… well, then that’s what one believes.

      If one believes that there’s an afterlife waiting for us all and that Sarah’s lucky to get there a few years earlier… well, then that’s what one believes.

      Some people believe that God has revealed, through science, tools that make it possible for this world’s Sarahs to beat the no-chemotherapy odds. And they believe that it’s OK to accept those tools as one of God’s gifts. But… that’s what they believe.

      After all, it’s not Sarah’s parents who are going to die early if they guess wrong. They have the luxury of making decisions with their daughter’s skin, not theirs, in the game.

      Poor Sarah, poor family, poor all of us…

    10. The Hospital's Mandate

      Don’t blame the hospital. It is just doing what it is supposed to do. They have to come up with a treatment plan for anyone admitted as a patient. Palliative care is not part of their job description. When my husband’s mother was terminally ill, his sister-in-law, an RN, said, “Don’t put her in the hospital. Even though she is dying, they are obligated to give her medical treatment. They will put her on IVs to hydrate and feed her, which may prolong her life a few weeks but will certainly increase her suffering.”

    11. Tim Payne


      This decision is simply confirming the right of a parent to murder a child through ignorance and neglect. And if that’s not bad enough, you don’t have to hide, just do it in the comfort of your own home. Is there any crime so heinous, it would be unacceptable to the faithful?

      1. Dirk

        Tim I thought the right to have an abortion confirmed that right a long time ago. According to already 1,131,793 children have so far this year been murdered by their mothers through abortion. Bear in mind this figure excludes those deaths causes by the morning after pill. What are you doing about that Tim?

        Nothing??? well then get off your high horse about an Amish family refusing to let their little girl be used by the hospitals and drug companies as a human lab rat for their latest chemo therapy concoctions.
        They don’t work. It’s a farse to enrich themselves at your expense, everyone still dies sooner or later.

    12. George

      Chemo is pretty well the last resort to possible save a patient’s life.
      My dad had chemo treatments. They can only give so many treatments and then they stop. Then the patient will die on his own.
      In all fairness, my dad had 3 tumors in his chest and 2 in his brain, and yes, he was a very heavy smoker.I talked to my dad’s doctor, who explained why they had to stop giving one more chemo treatment.
      As far as Sarah, none of us really know how bad her cancer is. Chemo
      treatments may help her or not.
      We, the readers should all pray for Sarah. Miracles happen every day.
      God will make the final judgement, for he knows what’s best for Sarah.
      I for one, will pray for Sarah. I pray you do as well.

      1. I agree that miracles happen every day.. My father in law was told 3 times that he had terminal cancer and he had less than 90 days to live in all 3 cases.. He lived another 40 years thanks to meditation, prayers, and in once case the ignorance of radiation back in the early days of treating cancer with it. They burned the bottom of his lung to a crisp.. and it saved his life. 🙂

        Miracles happen every day.. but when its out time to leave this world, we will.. no matter what we do.

    13. Dale

      So hard

      This is a very hard subject to discuss. If Sarah was an adult she would have the right to make the decision to continue treatment or not and if she decided to discontinue the chemo not one of us would be posting our arguments here now. But she is a child and as a minor has no right to make this kind of a decision in the eyes of the law. That responsibility is left to her parents. They didn’t withhold treatment. They tried the chemo the doctors said was required to save her life. They are the ones who had to help her deal with the side effects. They are the ones who had to listen to her plead with them not to take her back for more treatment. They are the ones who ultimately had to, and had the right to, give in to her pleadings and end that treatment. No parent makes the decision that may be the cause of their child’s early death lightly. They agonized over it.
      Doctors don’t force treatment on patients, especially children, for money. They take an oath to treat patients to prolong and improve their lives. One of the foundations of that oath is to’first do no harm’. Unfortunately with cancer treatments very often they must poison the patient to kill the cancer. They must risk destroying healthy tissue to destroy the tumor.
      Prayers to all of them.

    14. Galen

      Just Sad

      When I finished grad school I was diagnosed with Leukemia, and due to the severity of my situation, underwent a bone marrow transplant. Before one gets a BMT, you are put in an isolated room at the hospital then hooked up to all these IV’s and I was on chemo 2 hours, then off 2 hours for 10 days. Many people die during the transplant process, ie, the treatment itself, not to mention all the complications that follow a transplant. It is a known fact that cancer “treatment” causes cancer as well and I was warned that I could get a secondary cancer. Well, I have been diagnosed now, with my secondary cancer.

      I was a physical therapist before I got sick. I saw and treated many children with leukemia. One of the things that has been documented is that children have a much better chance beating leukemia or any other childhood cancer because of their young and growing, ever-changing bodies. Here in New England, most of our children beat leukemia, but we have very specialized hospitals designated for just children.

      It bothers me, as a Christian, when people say it’s in God’s hands or lets depend on God’s medical care, “OhmyGodcare” and everything will be fine. God has provided us with new technology and expertise in dealing with all heath issues. Could God heal Sarah? YES. Could God have healed me? YES MIght God still heal me? Maybe.

      Clearly Sarah getting leukemia has a reason, and God has a reason for my illness too. Maybe an illness is about that particular person or maybe it’s all about the changes that will happen to other’s, as a result of one’s illness.

      What is not up for argument here is how much a person does suffer during chemo or other cancer treatment. I now do hospice work and patients sometimes die as a result of treatment and might have had a better quality of life had they just stopped it. But as adults, we can decide on our own. Trying to make a prayerful decision has been tough for me. I want to follow His will, yet quality of life issues start to come into play.

      I’m hoping God will heal Sarah and He may have used her, as an example, to teach people that the Amish are not perfect and they battle some of the same issues us Englisher’s do. If Sarah loses the battle, she will be in a place where there is no pain, where people aren’t arguing over how to take of you, and she’ll be surrounded by God’s love.

    15. Donna

      Is it really worth it?

      In reading this article I was struck by the comment that apparently if she receives the 2 years of chemo she had 85% chance to survive 5 years. But if she doesn’t receive the treatment she might live a year. Well, is it really worth going through the torture of chemo to only live such a short time longer. While her life might be shorter without the chemo, the quality of that time may be much better. These parents were looking out for their daughters well being. They were not saying that the chemo would not lengthen her life a few years but they want the life she has left to be happier and less tortuous for her. They are not ignorant – they just want the best life possible for their child which may not be the same as the longest life possible. This is not murder. This is letting God have control and helping their child be happy for whatever time she has left.
      These parents did what was best for their child!