Another Hauser goes for “natural” medicine against a deadly disease

Around this time last year, the major topic of this blog was the case of a young teen named Daniel Hauser. In fact, right around this time last year, this particular case was approaching its climax. Hauser, as you may recall, was the 13-year-old Minnesota boy diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma who refused chemotherapy. His stated reason was his religion, namely Nemenhah, a fake American Indian religion that his parents joined 18 years ago. However, I had my doubts that religion was the main reason why Hauser was refusing chemotherapy and his mother was supporting his decision to pursue “natural” therapy. Whatever the reason, the result was a court case that made the national news and got even bigger when Daniel and his mother went on the lam from the law. At the time I presumed they were heading for the Mexican border to go to the Tijuana quack clinics. Ultimately, they turned themselves in; Daniel underwent curative chemotherapy for his cancer; and he is currently doing well. There is very little reason to expect that he won’t continue to do well.

The wonders of modern scientific medicine! Another young life saved!

Unfortunately, Daniel has some pretty crappy luck. First, he was diagnosed last year with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. No matter how you slice it, that’s a horrible break for a young kid. Now, today, I’ve learned that his father has been diagnosed with cancer:

Last year, Colleen Hauser was convinced that an all-natural treatment could cure her son’s cancer. A judge disagreed and ordered Daniel Hauser to have chemotherapy.

Now it’s her husband’s turn.

Once again Colleen and Anthony Hauser are vowing to beat cancer without conventional medicine.

Here’s what Anthony Hauser is facing:

Last month doctors told Hauser, 55, that he has a rare and aggressive form of leukemia, but for the moment he said he does not want chemotherapy. Instead, he’s on a strict diet of leafy greens, nuts and vegetables, much like the diet the couple first chose for their son.

It turns out that Mr. Hauser has acute erythroleukemia. This is a fairly rare cancer, accounting for only 3-5% of newly diagnosed acute myelogenous leukemias (AMLs). It’s extremely rare in children but more common in those over age 50, although “common” is a relative term. In fact, this particular form of AML is listed as a “rare disease” by the Office of Rare Diseases (ORD) at the National Institutes of Health. The meaning of this definition is that fewer than 200,000 people suffer from this disease in the U.S.

As far as survival goes, a recent paper from M.D. Anderson reported that after induction chemotherapy, 62% of patients achieved a complete remission. Unfortunately, median disease-free survival is only 32 weeks, with an median overall survival of 36 weeks. Not good. In fact, the survival curves looked like this, with the top curve being overall survival and the bottom curve being disease-free survival.

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As you can see, the five year survival is at best 20%, but the survival curve levels off there. Consequently, if you are one of the lucky one in five with this disease and can make it five years, your chances of living 20 years are quite good. Of course, at least 80% don’t survive five years, making it hard to say much about this form of AML other than its prognosis really, really sucks.

Right now, this is how Mr. Hauser is treating his cancer:

Anthony, a man of few words, said he’s lost about 35 pounds since winter. He’s now on a diet that he and his wife developed from their own research: collards, carrot tips, kale and other vegetables, all blended into the consistency of baby food. Now he and Danny both drink it.

Anthony says he’s “not refusing anything,” but that chemotherapy would be a last resort.

“I feel I have time for that,” he said Wednesday.

He admits, however, that his doctors aren’t sure if he has the luxury of time. “It’s up to God, I guess, what happens,” he added.

Ironically enough, the reason the Hauser family decided to disclose his illness was because CNN was preparing a one year update on Daniel’s story.

This case is, of course, very different from that of Mr. Hauser’s son Danny. The reason, of course, is that Mr. Hauser is an adult. From my perspective, a competent adult has the right to choose whatever therapy he wants or even no therapy at all. Moreover, given the crappy prognosis of AML, it’s not as black and white a question as it was with Danny. For Danny, it was a question of an 80+% chance of survival if he took chemotherapy versus what was in essence a zero chance of survival without chemotherapy. For Danny, it was also a question of a minor without the faculties to understand fully the choice he was making. Society defaults to the presumption that children should be treated and should not be allowed to die. For adults, the default assumption is that a competent adult can choose his medical care, which is as it should be in a free society. If that mentally competent adult chooses quackery or no treatment, as long as he is competent, such a choice is entirely within his rights.

Given the poor prognosis of Anthony Hauser’s cancer, I don’t know if I can be anywhere near as critical of him for choosing woo over medicine, particularly since he is still accepting blood transfusions. I can say, however, with a high degree of certainty that this woo will not work. I also have to wonder if financial issues had anything to do with his decision. The article mentions that the family is having financial difficulties left over from Daniel’s ill-conceived and ill-advised legal action and flight from the law. Now Anthony can’t work anymore, exacerbating the financial difficulties. The reason I speculate is because the treatment for AML can be high dose chemotherapy followed by stem cell transplant or bone marrow transplant, incredibly expensive procedures. I hope it’s not money that’s the reason. In fact, I doubt that it is, because Anthony appears to believe in the same woo that the Hauser family tried to foist on Daniel when he had lymphoma.

One thing that bothered me about the video included with the story is that Colleen Hauser is now blaming the stress Anthony endured last year during the legal action, Daniel’s flight from the law, and then his subsequent chemotherapy for Anthony’s cancer. If there’s one thing we’re fairly sure of, it’s that stress doesn’t cause leukemia. It’s also annoying that, instead of making this about her husband, who has a greater than 50% chance of dying within the next year and only a 20% chance of being around five years from now–and that’s assuming he changes his mind, relents, and undergoes treatment with chemotherapy– she’s stuck in the past about Danny:

In Danny’s scenario, if I would’ve just let them go what they want to do with him–the standard protocol–there’s a good chance he might not have been here. Because what we did for our son changed his protocol. It took out poisonous drugs, the most toxic ones that made him so deadly sick. They should do that with every child.

Anthony is apparently on board with this, characterizing it as “basic science.” Unfortunately, in pursuing woo over medicine, he is endangering his relatively small chance of surviving his disease and, if he persists, virtually guarantees that his children will grow up fatherless. That decision is, of course, his right. It may even be a rational decision for a man in Hauser’s situation to forego cytotoxic chemotherapy and opt only for palliative therapy, understanding that he was going to die. I honestly don’t know what I would do if faced with this situation, but I do know that, if I opted for no treatment, I would understand that I was going to die soon and that my decision was to opt for quality of remaining life over quantity. I would also understand that quality is a relative thing and that, no matter how good palliative care is, my end would not be free of unpleasantness. Unfortunately, that’s not how he views it. He thinks his woo will help him beat his cancer and survive.

Before I learned of his father’s new diagnosis, I smiled when I thought of the Danny Hauser case because I viewed Danny as a young life saved by scientific medicine in spite of irrational beliefs. I’m still happy that Danny’s alive, but this new news about his father tempers that joy with the knowledge that soon Danny will be fatherless.