Religion in Society

Refusing Chemo isn't Child Abuse, it's Colleen Hauser's Right

| by Suzanne Venker

Cancer is complicated. While I don’t have any personal experience with it, I do know this much: Some cancers are more surmountable than others, and chemotherapy isn’t pretty.

The type of cancer Daniel Hauser has -- Hodgkin’s lymphoma -- is a cancer that’s surmountable. So surmountable, in fact, that the survival rate is generally 90% or higher when it’s detected in the early stages, making it one of the most curable forms of cancer. Those are some damn good odds, if you ask me; so if one of my children had the disease, there’s no question he or she would undergo treatment. But, then, I don’t have an internal conflict between God and science.

Daniel Hauser is thirteen-years-old. He and his mother, Colleen Hauser, recently returned to Minnesota after fleeing from court-ordered cancer treatment. According to media reports, the Hausers ceased treatment for Daniel after one chemotherapy session in January, citing religious and other objections. They have turned to alternative treatments instead. For example, the family joined the National Nemenhah movement, a native American religious group that supports natural healing methods. Anthony Hauser, Daniel’s father, does not seem worried about his wife and son’s whereabouts. He has hinted that he knows where they might be and assumes his wife has found a suitable alternative form of treatment.

I couldn’t help but notice in the reports that the Hausers’ family farm is near Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, the town Pa Ingalls of Little House on the Prarie used to frequent. In those days, families had no option but to depend on the natural healing methods of Native American tribes. Doc Baker would have been of little help back then, which makes me think about medical progress in general. It’s miraculous that we have the ability to save lives today when a hundred years ago people under the same circumstances would have died. But the fact remains that there are people among us who prefer to live life the old-fashioned way. The very old-fashioned way. Like the Amish, the Hausers want the freedom to live life in its natural state. And there’s nothing natural about chemotherapy.

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Still, Daniel is a minor. And in the same way teenagers are too young to “choose” abortion without parental consent, I personally believe Daniel is too young to make this decision. I wish I could say the law is intervening simply because Daniel’s cancer is curable, but I don’t think that’s the case. According to a comment by “AG” on CNN.com, intervention occurs at other times as well.

So if you and your child make a decision it is Child Abuse…But what do you call it when the courts rush in and forcefully take a child from their parents using Sheriff’s and Court orders? One of my closest friends had this happen…they forced blood transfusions on him, against his wishes-via a court order…threatened to sedate him if he fought against it…, and the state took custody of the child. Guess what? He died anyway despite the doctors best efforts! These doctors need to get rid of their God complex and let families make reasonable decisions about their medical treatment.

In the case above, AG’s friend was “doomed from the beginning” -- yet the law still intervened. While I understand the desire to hold a parent responsible for allowing their child to die when he clearly doesn’t have to, forcing treatment on someone who’s “doomed” is a whole different matter altogether. In fact I just went through something similar with my father last year. He was 85 years old and ready to die. Simply put, he was finished living – and made this very clear to me on numerous occasions. When I tried to convey this to his doctor, who wanted my father to take test after test in an attempt to “cure” him, he told me it wasn’t true my father wanted to die. The arrogance was astounding; apparently many doctors do have a God complex.

The bottom line is this: Death is complicated, and how we choose to do it should be our own business. Would I make an exception in Daniel’s case? I want to say yes. I want to say that since this case is so obvious, since Daniel will obviously live if he undergoes chemotherapy and die if he doesn’t, his parents should be forced by law to seek treatment for him. On the other hand, Daniel went through one round of chemotherapy and suffered enormously. He doesn’t want to do it. Whether he would feel otherwise if he had different parents is beside the point. Are his parents obligated to overrule what their son says he wants -- especially when what he says he wants is a direct result of their having raised him a certain way? I don’t know. But I do think they’re entitled as a family to seek whatever form of treatment they believe is best.

To suggest Mr. and Mrs. Hauser are abusing their son because they think differently from the masses strikes me as wrong. It’s hard to stand by when people do things we don’t agree with, but forcing someone to live when he doesn’t want to go through the hell it requires to remain alive, or when he believes natural healing methods will work – and how do we know they won’t? – isn’t right either. It’s a tough call any way you look at it, but my gut tells me there are some things in life we just have to stay out of. Perhaps Daniel’s case is one.