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Ohio Amish girl, family flee to avoid forced chemotherapy

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Nov. 20, 2013: An Amish buggy heads down a driveway to a farm off of Greenleaf Road near Washingtonville, Pa., (AP)

A 10-year-old Amish girl with leukemia and her parents haven't contacted a guardian appointed two months ago to make medical decisions for the girl after her parents stopped her chemotherapy treatments, the guardian's attorney said Wednesday.

It's unclear whether the girl has resumed treatments, and there are indications that the family has left its farm in rural northeast Ohio.

The girl, Sarah Hershberger, has not restarted treatments at Akron Children's Hospital, said Clair Dickinson, the guardian's attorney. He said it's not known whether she is undergoing chemotherapy anywhere else.

Doctors at the Akron hospital believe Sarah's leukemia is treatable but say she will die without chemotherapy. The hospital went to court after the family decided to stop chemotherapy and treat Sarah with natural medicines, such as herbs and vitamins.

An appeals court ruling in October gave an attorney who's also a registered nurse limited guardianship over Sarah and the power to make medical decisions for her. The court said the beliefs and convictions of her parents can't outweigh the rights of the state to protect the child.

The family has appealed the decision to both the appeals court and the Ohio Supreme Court.

Messages seeking comment were left Wednesday with attorneys representing the family.

One of the attorneys, John Oberholtzer, told The Medina Gazette he has been in contact with the family but does not know its whereabouts or whether the girl is being treated.

Dickinson, the guardian's attorney, said that shortly after the appeals court ruling, a taxi was sent to the family's home near the village of Spencer in Medina County, about 35 miles southwest of Cleveland. The taxi was to take the Sarah to the hospital in Akron, but someone at the home said the family was not there, Dickinson said.

County officials said the family was not at the farm during a welfare check in late October, The Gazette reported.

Dickinson said there are no plans to ask the court to find the family or force the girl into chemotherapy while the case is being appealed.

He said Sarah's last known chemotherapy session was in June, and that doctors have said she could die within a year if treatments don't resume.

"I'm very concerned about her," he said.

Andy Hershberger, the girl's father, said this past summer that the family agreed to begin two years of treatments for Sarah last spring but stopped a second round of chemotherapy in June because it was making her extremely sick.

Sarah begged her parents to stop the chemo and they agreed after a great deal of prayer, Hershberger said. The family, members of an insular Amish community, shuns many facets of modern life and is deeply religious.

Hospital officials have said they are morally and legally obligated to make sure the girl receives proper care. They said the girl's illness, lymphoblastic lymphoma, is an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but there is a high survival rate with treatment.

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