I really don’t know how I feel about this:
A 16-year-old cancer patient was headed to court Tuesday with his lawyers to try to block a judge’s order requiring him to report to a hospital the same day for treatment as doctors deem necessary.
A juvenile court judge on Monday denied a request by lawyers for Starchild Abraham Cherrix and his parents to stay his order pending an appeal in a higher court, said John Stepanovich, attorney for Jay and Rose Cherrix.
Lawyers also asked the Accomack County Circuit Court to take over the case and grant the stay, and a hearing was set for noon Tuesday in that court, Stepanovich said.
Abraham and his parents will appear at the hearing with their lawyers, Stepanovich said. He said the Circuit Court was aware that the order required Abraham to be at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk – about 80 miles from the courthouse – by 1 p.m. Tuesday.
“I’ll fight until I do die. I’m not going to let it go,” Abraham said Monday by phone from his home in Chincoteague on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
“I would rather die healthy and strong and in my house than die in a hospital bed, bedridden and unable to even open my eyes,” said Abraham, who was so weakened by three months of chemotherapy last year that at times he could barely walk.
He refused a second round of chemotherapy when he learned early this year that his Hodgkin’s disease, a cancer of the lymph nodes, was active again, choosing instead to go on a sugar-free, organic diet and take herbal supplements under the supervision of a clinic in Mexico. A social worker then asked a judge to require the teen to continue conventional treatment.
“I’ve got nothing to lose by what I’m doing,” Abraham said. “I truly do believe that this (alternative treatment) is going to cure me.”
This is one of those wierd issues that cuts across so many things I can not seem to get my bearings. My gut instinct is that I detest the notion of the government ordering anyone to receive treatment they do not what or have decided is not in their best interest. At the same time, I think anyone who thinks that alternative holsitic health programs will cure cancer over modern medical practices is an insane crazy person.
I am going to have to mull this one over, but for now, while I disagree with the patient and his parents on their course of action, I oppose the government getting involved. There are a lot of issues here wrapped up in one, and I need to think about this.
What if he would simply rather die from cancer than live with chemo? It’s a choice that he is entitled to make.
The government will deny this boy access to a natural drug that helps relieve the pain of chemo but they will also deny him the choice of simply choosing cancer over treatment. It’s almost as if they want him to suffer.
At 16 he is a minor, and under the parens patriae jurisdiction of the state if there is a finding his parents are unfit… I would say there is a case to be made to that effect. Really, it is his parents who are on trial here, not the boy.
His age makes this an expecially difficult case. If he were a couple years older, or younger, there would not be much of a dispute in any case. While the issue of parental fitness is being worked out, the court is empowered to maintain the status quo – that is, keep the boy alive.
They named him “Starchild”? There’s one strike against the mental fitness of the ‘rents.
Part of me screams DARWIN!…As in, the dumbest ought best die off…and anyone taking alternative meds from…Mexico(?)..is surely an idiot.
The other part of me says since I’ve never undergone chemo, I cannot make any judgements about his choices. I have witnessed a good friend in chemo treatments, and it puts “disturbing” in a whole new light…
Either way…the kid’s a minor. He’s got zero legal standing, I’m guessing.
I’ve read a bit about this story elsewhere.
I’ll say I have to admire anyone admitting that this is a dificult and close case, and not latching on to it to advance an agenda.
It is indeed a tough choice but I’m going to have to side with the right of the boy and his family to choose this one. The age of the child is a key part of this. If the child were five, for example, nobody would even consider letting him make a decision of this magnitude and it would be pure neglect if his parents did not allow him to receive any more treatment, regardless of their belief in alternative medicine or how much the boy (naturally) protested. Sixteen, however, is an age at which kids are starting to get more rights and responsibilities. They can drive, for example. In many states, 16 is the age of sexual consent. It seems perfectly reasonable that, with the approval of his parents, he should be allowed to choose to receive or not receive medical treatments. It is a close call. If he were a year younger, I’d probably go the other way on this.
This is pretty much where I am, too: Uncomfortable with the idea of the government mandating a treatment no matter what the patient’s wishes are, but also uncomfortable with how stupid this kid is being. But I think the former trumps the latter–being in a free country means having the freedom to make stupid choices, such as choosing “holistic” health over real medicine, becoming a Scientologist, or being a Lakers fan.
Its not fair to the kid to consider him a candidate for a Darwin award. At 16 a lot of kids are just not ready to make life and death decisions.
The kid has standing, but he must act through his parents or some other party appointed by the court.
c’mon John, isn’t it obvious? No-one is allowed to die unless the government is the one who gets to kill them.
I pretty much felt the same way as John when I first read that one. But then, as someone with diabetes, I also see the other side of it. If I were to reject insulin for alternative therapies, I’d end up in the hospital. If I continued to expirement with alternative therapies to the neglect of my normal routine, I’d probably experience longterm complications that could effect a lot of people in the long run. I mean, I could lose my insurance as a result of not following the standard treatments and become a burden to the taxpayer much less my family. So I can see where the judge may be coming from.
The question here is, by refusing (sane) medical treatment now, is the kid essentially committing suicide? And personally, if he is, (and even if that is determined to be technically against the law) I’m fine with it, provided that he is of sound mind at least–because it is his choice to make. I only object when even that choice is taken away, and people are executed against their will because they can’t pay up.
Being diagnosed and going through that first round of chemo probably granted him a level of maturity not seen in most 16-year olds. It is a tough call, but I say that if he wants to refuse conventional treatment, and his parents support him in that, it’s none of the government’s business.
I think Tulkinghorn’s right about this being difficult mainly because of the age of the kid, which suggests that the court might first make a judgment about whether he’s capable of making adult decisions, and then go along if he is or make the decision for him if he’s not.
A separate issue is enforcement. Can anyone imagine the cops dragging the kid to a hospital and forcing treatment on him? I guess, but that image is not something I want to think of as being characteristic of our society or government.
I think the government should let people make their own decisions, unless the case is a slam dunk, which this clearly isn’t.
16 isn’t an adult but it’s not a little kid either. A 16-year old who has been through cancer treatment is probably plenty mature, and if he makes an informed decision in conjunction with his parents, well then that’s what freedom is all about.
Significantly, it’s not like he’s irrationally convinced there will be a miracle cure, or even that he’s into Christian Science (which has been the source of plenty of court battles, of course). He clearly acknowledges the likelihood that he won’t make it, and says he’d rather die on his own terms than tired and weakened from chemotherapy.
I might not make the same choice in his unenviable situation, but I don’t believe the reason we form a government is to take that decision away from people like him.
Hot air and uninformed banter indeed. The most informed among you did what, spend 5 minutes with Google? The rest didn’t even do that much.
To borrow from Bill O’Reilly: SHUT UP!
We’ve spent enough time hearing about Guantanamo and Terry Schiavo that I cannot imagine that you can’t imagine this. Remember, Bill Frist and Jeb Bush are the arbiters of life and death in this country now. I guess the senator will diagnose Starchild on audiocassette this time, just to prove that gorillas and Iraqis aren’t the only living creatures he is willing to kill.
Thanks for your valuable contribution to the discussion.
I’m finding myself thinking along the lines of Krista, SeesThroughIt and Steve. This is a tragic story all around, but I have to think that a 16 year old and his parents are free to make their own decisions. Unless there is more to this story than I’m seeing here…
I’d forgotten about Terri Schiavo. Yes, forced treatment is completely conceivable.
Hey, maybe “Marcus Welby” is the doctor of record for the kid, though I don’t remember him telling people to shut up very often. Not a great bedside manner.
The Other Steve
Seems pretty cut and dried to me.
Unless the parents are completely unfit, then it is not the role of Government to interfere in the choices made by the parents with regards to the care given to their children.
This strikes me similar to the case in Utah where a woman who refused a C-section was charged with murder when the baby died.
It seems pretty clear cut actually. This is an intelligent, informed adolescent who’s less than two years away from being an adult. He’s already had chemo before, it hasn’t worked and only made him sicker and he wants to try something different. Personally I’m not a fan of much alternative medicine, but I understand where he’s coming from and he’s old enough to have a say in his own treatment.
This is not an instance of, for example, a toddler being denied treatment by his parents and in such a case, where it can’t be said the child is making informed consent, it’s reasonable for the state to step in.
Tulkinghorn has it right. Especially considering this paragraph, which John ommitted:
I suspect we are getting only part of the story, here – more incomplete reporting. I can tell ya, as someone who works in Family Court, in dependency matters such as this, there is a lot more going on than “the judge doesn’t like the parents’ healthcare choices.”
For instance, the child himself may have a juvenile court record (the lengthier, the more likely the state will declare the juvenile a dependent), or the parents themselves may have criminal records, or the parents may have positive drug screens (judges don’t want kids to be looked after by drug addicts).
Because much of this sort of information is supposed to remain confidential because Starchild is a juvenile, there is a bigger picture here that is likely remaining hidden. Its very likely that the parents, child, and the courts have been battling over custody for some time before this order, and over unrelated matters.
The parents and son went through the initial round of chemotherapy. This is not a case of parental neglect, ofr example,like buying a new Hummer and not paying for treatment. Like Schiavo it is a families decision and the government should but out except for serious neglect.
I’m fine with whatever happens, as long as it isn’t decided by activist judges.
The young man has the right to make this decision about HIS life. He’s already been through chemo once, he knows the odds are against him and he doesn’t want to die in some barren hospital room surrounded by “medical staff”. The medical community doesn’t see the person here, just the patient. The must cure at whatever cost (not monetary), irregardless of the pain and suffereing to the actual person involved”. Anything but death..better a miserable twilight life than the alternative.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to be faced with this at that age, but I had a few friends who did. They both died eventually, despite the “best” that modern medicine could do for them. One, his name was Carl, had a leg amputated because of his cancer…and he came back to our small school, had a great last year..older and wiser than the rest of us. His hair grew back, as did his cancer…he never saw his own graduation. Would another round of chemo have saved him, or just extended his life for yet another round, a vicious circle. He didn’t want that. He recognised his own impending death…
What an image if this boy loses in court. Are they going to raid his house and handcuff him if he resists?
I don’t know that it’s the choice I’d make, but the fact that they went though one round of chemo gets them most of the way to credible in my book. It’s can’t be said they didn’t give “western medicine” a chance. Perhaps their calculation is that the pain isn’t worth a small chance of payoff. The holistic stuff may be just a hail-mary what-the-hell and independent of the decision to eschew chemo.
Huh. I clicked on the link, and it goes to an update on story: the judge has lifted the order, and the kid doesn’t have to report to the hospital after all.
I wanted to know what, if any, chance there was that a second round of chemo would cure the kid. If not, it’s a no-brainer. He knows what it’s like to endure a horrific round of chemo and have nothing to show for it. Why make him go through that again?
But if the odds were 75% or better that a second round of chemo would cure the cancer, then I’d be more inclined to say “No, sorry, you have to do this.” Because then it’s more a matter of suffering in the short term for a major benefit in the long term – precisely the kind of calculus adolescents are not good at.
Oh, and as far as the name – I don’t want to hear anyone down on the Starchild, hear? I myself have made the Mothership Connection and am gonna get up for the down stroke. The Parliment has voted and that name…. is funky.
CaseyL – it is very rude of you to screw up a good debate by introducing facts!
LIT: As in Schaivo, people who have not spent time in family court don’t realize the complexities. It is very difficult to make the right decision in these case, but from what I have seen the judges have a good track record.
In any case, it may be that the second round of chemo is as unlikely to succeed as the magic water treatment from Mexico. Either case may be the secular equivalent of going to Lourdes. If so, the magic water treatment sounds better.
A couple of points:
– Hodgkins Disease is VERY curable. About a 75-80% cure rate. I know, I had it myself back in ’93-’94. Yeah the chemo sucked but it beats the alternative. I’ve been cancer-free for 12 years now
– This is a local story that has been around for awhile. What they are not saying here is that the kid ended his first treatments early because he said they were making him sick. He didn’t complete his initial treatment regimen (which is VERY important to get right the first time). That is why his cancer returned. If he had just toughed out his initial treatment he would probably be cancer-free right now
I’m having a very difficult time with this. I remember my best friend dying of AIDS, going in for chemo and more chemo. I also remember the needle falling out of his emaciated arm, the liquid scoring his skin like a branding iron. What were they putting in him? His doctor explained to me that chemo is a fine balancing act where you try to kill the cancer before you kill the patient. That’s just great. Like being in a Ken Russell movie. It seems to me a quality of life issue. The boy would like to be a part of the world around him for as long as he is able, possibly for a shorter time, but better than being alive longer and nearly senseless. You know, it’s that dignity thing. Something our govenors lost sight of a long time ago.
Cromahnon you might be right, you certainly are more familiar with the situation than me. Still, I don’t much care for the idea of living in a country where people have their medical choices(however ill-informed they might be) second-guessed by the government.
Poor 16-year old kid with cancer. But what are you gonna do? That’s the way the Intelligent Designer made him.
The judge’s order amounts to a law against being crazy.
People are allowed to be crazy until they present a threat to themselves or others (in theory, anyway).
Does refusing this treatment demonstrate that the lad is a threat to himself?
I don’t know. I’d be inclined to err on the side of Leave Me The Fuck Alone here. We might try to persuade the boy, but …. coerce him into treatment? No.
But, what if it were his parents standing in the way of treatment. Would we coerce them to go along? What if he were eight, or six?
Good points Nutcutter. To carry that further slong, what if there was an inutero cure for Down’s Syndrome? Can that be required if the parents refuse for whatever reason? Can we make amnios required by law? Or whatever the more current genetic test are now. Would a court allow the police to arrest the parents if they refuse?
I don’t know, my first urge is to say yes, make the parents follow the required course of treamtment dictated by the state.
Then as I type that, I realise what I just said.
An aside about some alternative medicines. I’m big on naturpaths. When I was younger, I was prone to bronchial pneumonia. The hacking your lungs up for weeks kind. I don’t even repsond to tetracycline anymore. Anyway, after a particularily nasty bout, and several different kinds of antibiotics, they were looking for the right one I guess, and severe loss of weight, etc…a friend sent me to a naturopath.
The first thing he did was crack my back…I could instantly breath better (I had thrown it out with the racking coughing). He then gave me echinacea and vitamin c as well as some others I can’t remember now and I kid you not, the BP was gone within the week.
Now, sadly, echinacea has gotten so mainstream that it cliche and very misused (Echinacea shampoo ???? ), but don’t discount alternative medicines completely.
While that doesn’t change the current situation, it allows me to yell Darwin again, this time on the parents. Something tells me, like Krista noted, that the parents who named their kid “Starchild” were probably less then the most accepting of modern medicine and yanked their kid at the first signs of discomfort. And God knows, there’s discomfort with chemo. Now I’m thinking more on terms of neglect charges for the parents, if true.
Dude’s 16, and he’s been through chemo before. He’s making an informed decision, and he’s old enough to have the mental tools to understand the consequences. I come down on his side, and it wasn’t even particularly difficult.
Another thing here…this country is schizo about what an “adult” is. The same child that must be protected from their own choices like this, or anything else..the minute that same child commits a crime…the call is for them to be tried as an adult.
That would certainly include this “child”…I think in Oregon it is 15.
Did the government offer to pay for Sunbeam’s, er, Starchild’s treatment? I can envision a day when pharmaceutical and health care corporations require people to undergo expensive treatments enforced by law. Well I hope not.
Senator Frist is a cat killer btw.
Well, for $21b, I’ll be a damned cat killer too.
There was a case sometime back about whether a girl, who was a Jehovah’s Witness, had the right to refuse transfusions during an operation even though it lessened her chances of surviving the operation.
I think she was 14, and the judge came down on her side as being adult enough to make the decision.
This story sickens me…
This 16 year old has been through more than most of you know or understand until you see it. He has been through Chemo before. It should be his choice whether he has to suffer again.
The government has NO business telling anyone what they should or shouldn’t do medically with your lives. Chemotheropy is just about the most absolute barbaric form of treatment you can find. Chemotheropy has proven (to me)time and time again that it doesn’t work. However I guess for some cancers it may be somewhat effective. Although I havn’t seen one yet. I’ve known several people with cancer and I would not wish Chemotheropy on them for anything.
Chemotheropy is a MIGHT treatment. MIGHT help put cancer in remission. BUT!!! there is two things it will most definately do. Make you sicker and weaker beyond imagination & Destroy your immune system. It could also feed and agitate the cancer.
I can maybe understand it if – It is a simply cured disease and you wouldn’t have a MIGHT DIE ANYWAY factor hanging out there.
But the fact is, he has been through it before and it should be his choice whether he wants to suffer again. He is a person.
I have a friend who has cancer and has decided only to do holistic measures. I think she’s nuts–but on the other hand, so many people who have cancer die from it despite using the strongest and most brutal medicines. The boy is young, and he may be depressed, which may cloud his judgment. That is an argument against letting him choose. On the other hand, he may be young, but he may never get the chance to be old. And what is more personal than your own death?
In an ideal world, we’d have gentle and completely effective cancer treatments, but we don’t yet. I wish the kid had been able to tough out the first round of chemo with his parents’ support. Given that he’s 16, I’d have to say that he should be allowed to skip chemo this time, but my feelings are obviously very mixed.
My nephew had HL when he was 20, went through chemo, and is a happy 35 year old father of two now. And I think the chemo of 15 years ago was harsher than the chemo of today.
On the other hand, my father went through chemo for adenocarcinoma of the liver but didn’t experience the nausea and pain of other types of chemo. He just felt very tired. We don’t know how long he would have survived after chemo because he died of a heart attack in his sleep 6 months after his cancer diagnosis. But not all chemo is a nightmare.
Well I’m still breathing 12 years after chemo for Hodgkins… Seemed to work for me. I have no complaints. Lets see, sick from chemo and radiation treatments for 9 months VS being dead forever. It was an easy choice for me
I agree that medical treatments shouldn’t be forced on anyone. If the kid wants to die, and his parents are OK with that, then so be it…. That said, this kid had a VERY curable form of cancer but he quit his initial treatment regimen early so his cancer returned. Very sad but he has no one but himself and his parents to blame. IMO the kid has acted like an idiot, but the parents are quilty of gross negligence
Andrew J. Lazarus
Sixteen is a tougher call, but when the kid is younger, I say treat him and if the parents interrupt treatment and the kid dies, that’s homicide.
I’ve know a couple people who recovered from Hodgkin’s Disease, apparently completely, and other people with other forms of cancer who at least got long and productive remissions.
Why am I reminded of this?
Cromagnon is absolutely right about the curability of Hodgkins disease. If you have to get cancer, this is one of the very best kinds to get. The cure rate is way up there. I’ve had two good friends with Hodgkins and both are now cancer free-3 years for one of them and 8 years for the other. Both of them tried to learn all they could about the subject, and they were pretty amazed at the good prognosis ten years out. But both would be willing to testify to the nastiness of chemo. One of them (who was a large person to start with) lost 130 lbs. during the chemo. She couldn’t keep anything down for nearly 6 months.
Would this situation be different if the Kid and his parents wanted to rely on prayer alone to “cure” him? It’s just as wacky, but even a smaller chance of any result, would the Judge be compelled to force the treatment?
I am also not familiar with the alternative treatment discussed in the article but I have to tell you that such treatments can and do work for other things. I was on nasty cholesterol drugs for a while (with horrible side effects for me) until I started to look into supplements, foods, and other organic preparations and that has gotten all my numbers down and I feel much better (not to mention the fact that I’m not spending anywhere near the cash).
Now I understand that cancer is a different deal but I’m just asking the question as to whether or not any successes have been reported using alternative treatments.
What troubles me here is Cherrix’ belief that the alternative treatments are going to cure him. That is not the mark of a realistic decision. If he were simply refusing chemo in the recognition that he would almost certainly die as a result then I would, maybe, with great reluctance, agree that he is old enough to decide to refuse treatment.
But his belief in some crackpot theory – let’s be blunt here – calls that into question. I would like there to be some way to get him to understand that this won’t work – that by foregoing chemo he is choosing to die of a possibly curable disease. Then, if I were satisfied he really understood, I guess I would let him do that – but I’m not sure.
Consider a hypotheical family, where the parents believed their 16 year old son was some kind of messiah and because of his holy power, had no need to eat food and could not go outisde. The son (a minor) shared his parents wacky religious beliefs and refused to eat, and remained locked inside his house.
If that were the case, the whole family would be deemed crazy, the child would be put in protective custody and the parents would go to jail for child abuse. And there would be a scant few who would object.
At the other extreme is a 16 year old who has cancer and a very poor prognosis for survival, and doesn’t want to suffer through another round of chemo which only has a small chance of success. I think most people would consider that a “death with dignity” case, and let him refuse treatment.
This case seems to be somewhere between, but from what I’ve seen, and the cure rates for that type of cancer, it sounds a lot closer to the former to me.
Yeah, but chemo is torturous. I can grasp the decision to accept a significant likelihood of death to avoid the brutality of chemo.
Who is paying for the treatment, by the way? Would it make a difference if economic considerations were at issue?
Andrew J. Lazarus
You know, one of my friends had chemo for metastatic lung cancer (he didn’t make it), and he looked (and felt) a lot better while in chemo than he did the last month on his deathbed.
Bernard Yomtov’s comment is a good one: this kid is in the hands of looney-toon parents and they aren’t the ones who are going down for the long count here. I’m worried by both the reliance on charlatan medicine and by his thought that the home death he is going to be “healthy and strong” dying at home. Healthy, strong, and dying is a pretty oxymoronic mix.
His parents must be former hippies or maybe part of those RAINBOW FAMILY freaks to give him afreaky name like STARCHILD its kind of like when DAVID CARADINE and BARBRA HERSHEY during the time he was doing his wacky series KUNG FU when she wnt by the name of BARBRA SEAGULL and and they named their son FREE and of course there was RIVER PHOENIX some people are pretty freaky
It seems to me there are multiple aspects and related possible permutations to this case. You can imagine a matrix that include the basic variables and fill it in to create a kind of Rorshach test of your leanings. The variables would include the competency of the parents and the kid (a proxy for the kid’s age), whether the kid and/or the parents wanted conventional treatment, whether they agreed, and the probability of success of the treatment.
I haven’t created such a matrix, but the following premises would guide my filling it in.
You can’t judge the competence of either parent or kid by their preference for one treatment over another, even if one has a higher probablility of success. Just ’cause the parents are hippies doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to have their beliefs respected.
The State has no right to enforce treatment for any competent person who doesn’t want it.
A 16-year old is probably competent. Competence is not an automatic attribute of a particular age. A 12-year old could be perfectly competent.
The actual patient’s wishes trump the interests of the parents and the State.
I think when you shake this out the only circumstance where the Sate can enforce medical treatment is when both the parents and kid are judged incompetent. I don’t see anything like that obtaining here. As unwise as the kid’s decision seems to be, inasmuch as he seems wholly competent I don’t see where the State has any legitimate standing in this at all. Put another way, the kid’s loss seems to be the price of keeping the Gov’mint The Fuck Out of Our Lives, aka “Freedom”. Given that we ask kids to die grimmer deaths all the time for much more abstract understandings of freedom, I don’t see how anyone can justify forcing the kid to live (in the best case) for the State’s satisfaction.