Sarah Hershberger comes home to die

It was a couple of weeks ago that I last provided an update on the case of Sarah Hershberger, the 11-year-old Amish girl from Medina County, Ohio with lymphoblastic lymphoma whose parents decided to stop her chemotherapy because of how sick it was making her. As I explained early on and on multiple occasions afterward, Sarah had about an 85% chance of long term survival with the chemotherapy regimen she was undergoing but a close to zero percent chance of surviving without it. In other words, her parents, Andy and Anna Hershberger, are committing gross medical neglect of their child. I realize that they love their daughter and are doing what they think is right for her. I realize that they don’t think they’re abusing their daughter. Unfortunately, they are. Their decision is almost certain to lead to the unnecessary and unpleasant death of their daughter sooner rather than later.

Because of this, the hospital, Akron Children’s Hospital, went to court to try to have a medical guardian appointed for Sarah, someone who would make sure that she received effective science-based treatment for her cancer. After a couple of rulings went against it, the hospital eventually won, and a medical guardian was appointed. Unfortunately, the parents fled. Where they fled is not exactly clear, but flee they did, apparently out of the country, while “health freedom” advocates and friends of the family claimed that Sarah was doing very well and “cancer free,” thanks to “natural” treatments being administered by unspecified practitioners. The quacks piled on, spinning the story as an evil, profit-crazed hospital trying to poison a poor innocent girl for fun and, above all, profit. Meanwhile, as I described last week, we learned that the Hershbergers are subjecting their daughter to the most useless and nonsensical forms of quackery, including including high dose vitamin C and B17 (the fake vitamin name given to the quackery known as laetrile), oxygen therapy, detoxification methods, as well as the IV chelation.

Most recently, a Libertarian-leaning 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, which is basically a group consisting mainly of Maurice Thompson, a got involved raising money for the Hershbergs on the basis of “health freedom.” He tries to promote “health care freedom, private property rights, taxpayer rights, school choice, political speech, commercial speech, ballot access, and voter integrity.” In this case, he has stepped in to make sure that a little girl does not get the treatment she needs to survive, if successful thus virtually guaranteeing her death. Sadly, the attacks from quacks and their supporters like Thompson have taken their toll, even on a hospital so dedicated to making sure that Hershberger gets potentially life-saving treatment that it went to court to see that it would happen. Two weeks ago, the hospital apparently gave up, and the woman appointed as the medical guardian for Sarah Hershberger resigned, at which point I lamented that Sarah Hershberger is probably doomed.

Now she has apparently finally come home with her family to die:

The Andy and Anna Hershberger family publicly reunited after many weeks in hiding as they appeared at an Amish community meeting on Wednesday. Andy and Anna alone were the last to arrive after seeing it would be safe for them to attend. (All are still waiting for the judge to approve the two-week-old letter of resignation from Ms. Schimer, court-appointed guardian for Sarah, legally acknowledging she and the hospital are backing down on their relentless and illegal pursuit of the girl. But the Hershbergers were not going to wait any longer. (Their emergence was just for the meeting after which they will retreat to an undisclosed location until it is legally safe.)


The community meeting, hosted by Foundations for Health Education, was to settle fears about going to Akron Children’s Hospital and teaching legal rights and protecting oneself against medical abuse. “Now more than ever, Akron Children’s Hospital will respect your right to choose, because they know . . . and they know your know your rights. Most participants were Amish men, about 35 in all. FHE director David Augenstein introduced campaign coordinators Earl Gregory (Lorain/Medina Co.), Wayne Miller (Wayne/Holmes Co.) and Sam Miller-Schrock (Trumbull/Geauga Co.) as well as Isaac Keim, Sarah’s grandfather and Amish bishop.

It’s a heartbreaking story, but at the same time enraging.

I had never heard of any such group named Foundations for Health Education. Interestingly, apparently the court has not yet approved the letter of resignation from Ms. Schimer, even two weeks later. As you might remember, two weeks ago, David Michael, the man who has been flogging this issue, was bragging that the court would almost immediately approve the resignation. It hasn’t, which makes me wonder if things are going as well in court for the allies of the Hershbergers as Michael is trying to lead us to believe. Personally, to me anything David Michael says needs to be verified. If he told me that it was raining outside, I’d look outside before believing him. However, if his account bears any resemblance to reality, this is depressing news. It sounds as though ACH is not only throwing in the towel on Sarah Hershberger but throwing it in altogether. It sounds as though it is promising not to do anything similar in the future, which is sad. One wonders what will happen the next time that a child is taken out of treatment and subjected to quackery based on religious beliefs, even if the life of the child is endangered. I hoped that this wouldn’t happen, but I’m not surprised that it did. The belief that children are the property of their parents and that parental rights are absolute is strong in this country. It doesn’t seem to matter how many children die.

Yet, how long could the hospital stand firm. Get a load of the campaign being orchestrated against it by quacks, “health freedom” supporters, and people who mistake freedom for the freedom to choose quackery for children who are not yet competent to choose for themselves:

Isaac and others told me many Amish in Ohio are turning away from the hospital and its 80 area locations. Others have come forward with stories of mistreatment and ACH has received over 1,000 letters of protest. By their actions, ACH and Ms. Schimer have created their own backlash. Andy says he is afraid these actions will cause great fear among parents that take their children to the hospital and who do not fully agree with their opinions.

Nice. Notice how these guys instigated all these letters and this backlash. True, Andy Hershberger didn’t personally instigated it, but he accepted the support of those who did, like David Michael and, likely, the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law. Through articles on David Michael’s site, which were picked up by sites like the über-quack website and others, amplifying the intended message that what ACH did was some sort of affront to freedom and parental rights, that it was doing it only for the profit it would see from the chemotherapy that it would be giving Sarah, and that the hospital was guilty of all sorts of malfeasance. Bogus charges flew, ranging from the aforementioned claim that the hospital was only in it for the money to claims that ACH had continued Sarah in a clinical trial protocol without having obtained adequate informed consent, that Maria Schimer was untrustworthy, and a bunch of claims about how ACH and Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) were corrupt in the “business of cancer.”

Many of the same charges are repeated in the latest post by David Michael. Perhaps the most outrageously idiotic charge was that ACH gave Sarah’s confidential medical information to the news media, which it appears most assuredly not to have done. All the information from news reports appears to have come from court proceedings. Meanwhile, Michael and the variety of quack advocates lamenting ACH’s alleged assault on “health freedom” keep repeating statements about Sarah’s health, claiming that she is “cancer-free,” letting the media know what treatments she is undergoing, and basically taking advantage of the fact that the hospital is bound by law and medical ethics in what it can reveal while the family is not.

It’s now been several months since Sarah Hershberger came off of treatment. We have no idea how much her disease has progressed or whether it remains in check. As I’ve explained time and time again about this case, it’s quite possible that the less than two full cycles of chemotherapy that Sarah underwent might have put her into remission. However, such remissions are usually not durable. There’s a valid scientific reason why the chemotherapy regimens for lymphoblastic lymphoma take over two years. It’s because after remission there are nearly always microscopic deposits of tumor left behind, and they will come roaring back without additional therapy, if they haven’t already. It’s possible, albeit unlikely, that Sarah Hershberger is one of the lucky ones whose remission lasts after so little therapy. Far more likely, her cancer will recur in a more resistant, difficult to treat form.

That’s why I fear that what has really happened here is that Sarah Hershberger has come home to die. Only and the family don’t know it yet, but that’s the most likely outcome. It was a preventable outcome, but the family decided to let her die, and the state appears to have given up even trying to prevent it.