A Minnesota judge has ruled a 13-year-old boy with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a highly treatable form of cancer, must seek medical treatment over his parents' objections.
In a 58-page ruling Friday, Brown County District Judge John Rodenberg found that Daniel Hauser of Sleepy Eye, Minn., has been "medically neglected" and is in need of child protection services. Rodenberg said Daniel will stay in the custody of his parents, but Colleen and Anthony Hauser have until May 19 to get an updated chest X-ray for their son and select an oncologist.
Rodenberg wrote that Daniel has only a "rudimentary understanding at best of the risks and benefits of chemotherapy. ... he does not believe he is ill currently. The fact is that he is very ill currently." Because of that and other evidence in the case, Rodenberg ruled there is a "compelling state interest sufficient to override the minor's genuine opposition."
A court-appointed attorney for Daniel, Philip Elbert, called the decision unfortunate.
"I feel it's a blow to families," he said Friday. "It marginalizes the decisions that parents face every day in regard to their children's medical care. It really affirms the role that big government is better at making our decisions for us."
Elbert said he hadn't spoken to his client yet. The phone line at the Hauser home had a busy signal Friday. An attorney for the parents had no immediate comment but planned to issue a statement later in the day.
Doctors have said Daniel's cancer had up to a 90 percent chance of being cured with chemotherapy and radiation. Without those treatments, doctors said his chances of survival are 5 percent.
Daniel stopped chemotherapy in February after a single treatment. He and his parents opted instead for "alternative medicines" based on their religious beliefs. Child protection workers accused Daniel's parents of medical neglect; but in court, his mother insisted the boy wouldn't submit to chemotherapy for religious reasons and she said she wouldn't comply if the court orders it.
"Daniel loves his parents and they love him. He should remain with them as long as he receives treatment complying with the minimum standards of parental care provided by Minnesota law," Rodenberg wrote.
He also said he was following the law in the best interest of the child.
"If the Minnesota Legislature ever reconsiders the relevant statutes, I am confident that I join all of the others involved in this matter in hoping, and indeed in praying, that Daniel Hauser lives to testify at that hearing."
Daniel's parents have been supporting what they say is their son's decision to instead treat the disease with nutritional supplements and other alternative treatments favored by the Nemenhah Band. The Missouri-based religious group believes in natural healing methods advocated by some American Indians.
"This is about the right of a 13-year-old young man to be free from acts of assault on his body," said the family's attorney, Calvin Johnson, on Thursday.
Dr. Bruce Bostrom, a pediatric oncologist, diagnosed Daniel Hauser with Hodgkin's lymphoma in January and recommended he undergo chemotherapy treatments once a month for six months, followed by radiation. Daniel became gravely ill about a week later and was taken to an emergency room, Bostrom said, and the family consented to the first chemotherapy treatment.
After that, Bostrom said, the family said they wanted a second opinion. They later informed him that Daniel would not undergo any more chemotherapy. Bostrom said Daniel's tumor shrank after the first chemotherapy session, but X-rays show it has grown since he stopped the chemotherapy.
"My son is not in any medical danger at this point," Colleen Hauser testified at a court hearing last week. She also testified that Daniel is a medicine man and elder in the Nemenhah Band.
Johnson said Daniel made the decision himself to refuse chemotherapy, but Brown County said he did not have an understanding of what it meant to be a medicine man or an elder. Court filings also indicated Daniel has a learning disability and can't read.
The Hausers, who are Roman Catholic, have eight children. Colleen Hauser told the New Ulm Journal newspaper that the family's Catholicism and adherence to the Nemenhah Band are not in conflict, and said she has treated illness with natural remedies her entire life.
Nemenhah was founded in the 1990s by Philip Cloudpiler Landis, who said Thursday he once served four months in prison in Idaho for fraud related to advocating natural remedies. Landis said he founded the faith after facing his diagnosis of a cancer similar to Daniel Hauser. He said he treated it with diet choices, visits to a sweat lodge and other natural remedies.
"The issue is Danny's right to decide how he wants to live his life," Landis said. "What if they make him take chemotherapy and he dies from that? The band will mourn with the family if that's the case, but we'll rejoice that Danny had the opportunity to test the law of the land."
On the Net:
Hauser case final argument briefs: http://www.courts.state.mn.us/?pageNewsItemDisplay&item45848
Nemenhah Band: http://www.nemenhah.org