NEW ULM, Minn. – As a 13-year-old, Daniel Hauser doesn’t have many rights.
He can’t drive. He can’t vote. He can’t enlist in the armed services. He can't buy cigarettes or alcohol. Some retailers won't even let under-18s buy glue without a parent present.
But does that mean Daniel, who is suffering from cancer, doesn't get a say in his health care?
Most ethicists say children and young teens don’t have the mental capacity to understand the severity of something like Hodgkin's lymphoma, which doctors say will kill Daniel if he doesn't undergo chemotherapy treatment.
“There’s not a 13-year-old out there who can be presumed balanced enough to decide to not take his medicine and to lose his life,” FOX News contributor and psychologist Keith Ablow said Friday.
But that hasn’t stopped teenagers from fighting for what they believe is their right to forgo treatment.
In Virginia, one teen’s fight to avoid chemotherapy led to a state law that now gives teenagers and their parents the right to refuse doctor-recommended treatment for life-threatening illnesses.
Ablow agrees with the Minnesota judge who ruled Daniel must get chemotherapy to treat his lymph node cancer, and he said if Daniel and his mother, Colleen Hauser, disagree, they should return home and fight the ruling rather than remain in hiding as they have been since Monday.
“There’s no question,” Ablow said. “If he believes so deeply that he can make this decision, he needs to engage with the institutions and say so. If it’s a religious conviction or dedication to alternative therapy, what better course of action than the courtroom to demonstrate his knowledge?”
After being diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease in 2005, a 15-year-old boy named Starchild Abraham Cherrix launched a legal battle in Virginia to forgo chemotherapy and treat his cancer with natural remedies and radiation.
As has happened in Daniel's case, a lower court judge ruled against Cherrix and ordered him to undergo chemotherapy. But the boy appealed, and a higher court ruled in his favor one year later.
Last June, Cherrix, now 18, announced he is cancer-free. And the Virginia state law that allows teens and parents to refuse medical treatment is named after him.
In 1994, a Massachusetts boy named Billy Best ran away from home at the age of 16 in order to avoid chemotherapy for his Hodgkin's disease. He returned home only when his parents promised to allow him to use natural remedies rather than undergo the prescribed treatment.
Now 31, Best is cancer-free — and a vocal supporter of Daniel Hauser. He has even offered to help Daniel hide from authorities.
Virginia lawyer Barry Taylor represented Cherrix in his battle to choose his own treatment. He agreed with Ablow that it would be best for Daniel to return home.
"Always, it’s better to stay and fight," he said. "It's never good to run out of a situation because now.. it’s never good to run out of situation. Right now he’s out of the care of the doctors who know him best. Situations can change rapidly and if he goes somewhere else to get treatment they have to start from scratch. It's best to stay with the doctors who him."
Taylor said he took the Cherrix case because he believes in the rights of both parents to make informed decisions about the custody and the care of their children.
Not knowing Minnesota law, Taylor said he's not sure if the Hausers have a winnable case, but said the family could cite Cherrix's case in their argument.
"Our case set a precedent and has been used in other cases," he said. "I get calls all the time from people who want to learn more about it."
Daniel's parents, Colleen and Anthony Hauser, have resisted the state of Minnesota’s efforts to have Daniel undergo chemotherapy, citing religious reasons.
The Hausers are Roman Catholics who also believe in the "do no harm" philosophy of the Nemenhah Band, a Missouri-based religious group that believes in natural healing methods advocated by some American Indians.
Ablow said Daniel, who is believed to be learning impaired and cannot read, does not have the capacity to decide what’s best for him and is completely dependent on his parents for guidance.
“There’s no reason to believe he has the ability to reject chemo at 13 years of age,” Ablow said.
He said it is possible Daniel feels like he’d rather die than risk losing his parents’ love.
“As a psychological metaphor, the flight of these people from the authorities can be seen as another example of the adults in his life stealing his life,” Ablow said.
“He can’t decide whether to be with them right now. For all intents and purposes, he has been kidnapped.”