RICHMOND, Va. – A teen cancer patient fighting to use alternative medical treatment for his illness said he told a juvenile court judge in a two-day, closed-door hearing what it's like to go through chemotherapy and that he didn't want to relive it.
"I told him my story ... so he could understand where I was coming from and live through me," 16-year-old Starchild Abraham Cherrix said.
In all, the judge heard 11 hours of testimony before the hearing concluded late Tuesday. At issue is if the teen can make his own medical decisions and whether he can keep living with his parents and four siblings on Chincoteague, an island off Virginia's Eastern Shore.
The judge is expected to issue a written decision by July 18.
The teen, who goes by Abraham, has Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymph nodes.
Three months of chemotherapy last year made him extremely weak. So when he learned in February that his cancer was active again, he turned — against doctors' advice — to a sugar-free organic diet, herbs and visits to a clinic in Mexico.
A social worker asked a judge to require the teen to continue conventional treatment.
In May, the judge issued a temporary order finding Jay and Rose Cherrix neglectful for supporting their son's choice to pursue alternatives. Judge Jesse E. Demps also ordered the parents to share custody of Abraham with the Accomack County Department of Social Services.
Abraham's parents face losing custody completely.
"What it boils down to is does the American family have the right to decide on the health of their child," Jay Cherrix said, "or is the government allowed to come in and determine that themselves and threaten one way or the other to split our family up?"
Abraham and his parents think a doctor reported them to Social Services for not continuing with chemotherapy. The judge initially forbid the family to leave Virginia, then let Abraham return to the Mexican clinic last month after the teen had X-rays to assess his disease.
The X-rays showed the chest tumor had grown mildly, Abraham said.
Social Services officials have declined to comment, citing privacy laws.
Barry Taylor, the family's attorney, said the case had major ramifications not only in Virginia, but across the nation when it comes to parents' rights to determine what is best for their children.
"I don't think any family in the commonwealth would be comfortable with the fact that a social worker with no medical training could make a medical decision for their child," Taylor said. "It's an assault on the American family."