Abraham Cherrix and patient’s rights

Last summer, Abraham Cherrix, 16, was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system. In the fall, he underwent three months of intense chemotherapy which left him nauseated, weak and so debilitated his father often carried him in from the car. Tests in February revealed the cancer still active; doctors ordered more chemotherapy and added radiation as well. Abraham turned down the treatment, opting for an alternative treatment known as the Hoxsey therapy. Abraham’s parents supported him in his decision. That’s when Social Services got involved. They asked the court to order Abraham to conventional cancer treatment for his own well-being.

On Friday, Judge Jesse E. Demps of Accomack County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court agreed with Social Services and said Abraham ‘s parents were to deliver him to CHKD by 1 p.m. Tuesday and give their consent to whatever treatment the hospital deems necessary.

“They are devastated but not surprised,” said Stepanovich, who practices in Virginia Beach. Stepanovich and Barry Taylor, an attorney representing Abraham, will file an appeal Monday and a motion to stay the judge’s order pending the appeal, which will be heard in Circuit Court.” — Norfolk Virginian-Pilot

In May, the same judge found the Cherrix’ guilty of medical neglect and divided custody between the parents and the Department of Social Services. Similar rulings have been made across the United States, including a ruling in Texas which removed 12 year old Katie from her parents for five months to force her into conventional therapy.

While there has not yet been any change in custody in Abraham’s case, it is a very real concern. In an interview with Ann Curry on NBC’s Today Show, Curry asked Abraham if he was willing to go to jail in order to fight the decision.

Yes, I’m willing — I am to do that because I obeyed the law by what they say. At least I try to as best as I can. If they want to put me in a juvenile detention, there’s really nothing I can do about it, and I will — I will have faith that my parents will get me out. And if they take my parents away, then I will do everything in my power to help them. — The Rebelution

So who has the right to determine Abraham’s treatment options? Abraham? His parents? The state? In 1997, President Clinton formed an Advisory Commission On Consumer Protection And Quality in the Health Care Industry. Among other things, they determined the rights and responsibilities of the patient. Among others is the right to participation in treatment decisions: “You have the right to know all your treatment options and to participate in decisions about your care. Parents, guardians, family members, or other individuals that you designate can represent you if you cannot make your own decisions.”

The Supreme Court has also ruled in favor of parental rights in medical decisions.

Simply because the decision of a parent is not agreeable to a child or because it involves risks does not automatically transfer the power to make that decision from the parents to some agency or officer of the state. The same characterizations can be made for a tonsillectomy, appendectomy, or other medical procedure. Most children, even in adolescence, simply are not able to make sound judgments concerning many decisions, including their need for medical care or treatment. Parents can and must make those judgments. Here, there is no finding by the District Court of even a single instance of bad faith by any parent of any member of appellees’ class. We cannot assume that the result in Meyer v. Nebraska, supra, and Pierce v. Society of Sisters, supra, would have been different if the children there had announced a preference to learn only English or a preference to go to a public, rather than a church, [442 U.S. 584, 604] school. The fact that a child may balk at hospitalization or complain about a parental refusal to provide cosmetic surgery does not diminish the parents’ authority to decide what is best for the child. — Parnham v. J.R., 442 U.S. 584 (1979)

Ironically, this treatment is agreeable to the child. While it harbors risks, conventional treatment does as well. Abraham has researched the treatment options and determined he is willing to take the risks associated with his alternative treatment plan. His parents have determined him competent to do so and have supported him in this. Where does the state have the authority to intervene in the health decisions of individuals?

Hat tip: Spunkyhomeschool

Update: For the moment, Abaraham will not have to undergo the chemotherapy he wishes not to repeat. A judge found that he should have the right to the appeals process prior to treatment.

A circuit court judge has suspended the orders from a lower court requiring Accomack County teen Abraham Cherrix to report Tuesday to Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk for mandatory therapy to treat his cancer.

In addition, the judge suspended the order requiring that Cherrix’ parents share custody over Abraham with Child Protective Services. — WAVY

His battle is not over, but at least he will not be subjected to the forced chemotherapy while he waits for his appeal in the circuit court. According to Abraham’s web site, the appeal is set for August 16.

One thought on “Abraham Cherrix and patient’s rights

  • August 16, 2007 at 7:59 pm
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    On a side note, today is August 16th, 2007. This marks the 1 year anniversary of the courts recognizing Abraham’s rights to choose his own medical treatment.

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