Noah McAdams: Another story of “parental rights” to choose quackery versus the rights of a child with cancer

It’s been a long time since I’ve written about a story like this, that of a state being forced to act on behalf of a child with a potentially curable cancer because the child’s parents refuse to treat him with science-based medicine and instead have decided that they would prefer to treat him with quackery. So it was that the story of Noah McAdams, a three-year-old boy with cancer, whose story will sound all too familiar to longtime readers of this blog, came to my attention. It has been going on for a while, with the parents, Joshua McAdams and Taylor Bland-Ball, continuing to fight to prevent their child from completing his life-saving treatment.

I say that Noah McAdams’ story will sound familiar to longtime readers because it has elements that, unfortunately, I’ve discussed many times before. Consider the long list of children whom I’ve written about over the years whose parents either refused to treat their children with chemotherapy or started chemotherapy and then stopped it. Several of these cases have resulted in one or both of the parents fleeing with their child, only to be located and brought back and/or court orders that the child be treated appropriately. Going back over a list of names of the children that I’ve written about who have been subjected to this sort of medical neglect is profoundly depressing: Abraham Cherrix, Katie Wernecke, Chad Jessop, Daniel Hauser, Sarah Hershberger, Cassandra Callender, and two Canadian First Nations girls, Makayla Sault, and a girl known in court documents as JJ, and others. Some, like Makayla Sault, have died. Some, like Daniel Hauser, Cassandra Callender, and JJ, as far as I know, have ultimately received treatment and lived, albeit delayed. Some, such as Abraham Cherrix, have puttered along with low grade disease for long periods of time. Some, like Sarah Hershberger, and Amish girl, have had outcomes that I have not been able to ascertain or verify but is apparently still alive. (At least she was the last time I checked, but I haven’t been able to find reliable reports since.)

Now Noah McAdams will be added to the list.

I first heard of Noah McAdams’ case last month, when I was recovering from my repairs, hence my not writing about it at the time. This week it’s found its way into the news again, leading to the usual suspects in the cancer quackosphere to rant about “medical kidnapping.” First, let’s look at the quacks’ portrayal of the story. Then we’ll look at what really happened and why the State of Florida was entirely justified in removing Noah from his parents’ care and mandating treatment.

First quack up, Mike Adams’ minion Ethan Huff on that repository of black-hole density quackery and conspiracy theories, earlier this week:

Another American family is facing a barrage of persecution from the corrupt medical establishment for refusing chemotherapy treatments for their three-year-old son, Noah – who doesn’t even have cancer, by the way.

Young Noah had previously been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in Tampa, Florida, where his parents reluctantly agreed, after being intimidated and threatened by establishment doctors, to have him undergo chemotherapy treatments. After just two treatments, Noah was declared to be cancer-free, in part due to his parents’ decision to supplement his conventional treatments with dietary, vitamin, and herbal interventions.

According to Noah’s mother, Taylor, because their son received this clean bill of health, she and her husband, Joshua, decided to stop his chemotherapy treatments and continue Noah on a natural treatment regimen for maintenance and prevention purposes. But All Children’s Hospital wasn’t okay with this, to which they responded by calling Child Protective Services on the family – opening up a Pandora’s box of persecution from which the family is still trying to escape.

Yes, to Adams and his minions, it’s always “persecution” when hospitals, child protective services, and the state intervene (usually late) to save the life of a child like Noah McAdams from medical neglect. Meanwhile, Erin Elizabeth of Health Nut News, who’s also über-quack Joe Mercola’s partner, rails against a court decision this week:

We told you the story about Noah McAdams last week after he was removed from his parents custody because they didn’t want him to continue chemotherapy treatments after being given a “cancer free” diagnosis. Well, yesterday a judge in Florida ruled that a 3-year-old must continue chemotherapy treatment against the wishes of his parents.

The little one, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in April, “was ordered by a Hillsborough County judge to complete at least the first phase of a prescribed chemotherapy treatment. His parents, Taylor Bland and Joshua McAdams, had asked the court to allow them to forgo chemotherapy, in favor of alternative treatments, including medicinal cannabis, vitamins and diet.”1

Sadly, while Noah must continue the chemo (poison), the judge’s ruling does allow his parents to use other natural, holistic treatments in combination with the required treatment.

Yes, where you (and, I presume, the vast majority of my readers) see two parents endangering the life of a child with cancer, quacks see grave injustice because the parents weren’t permitted to treat their child’s cancer with whatever magic they want to. As is the case with many antivaxers, these believers in alternative medicine appear to believe in absolute parental rights to treat their child medically however they deem fit. It never occurs to them that the child has rights of his own, among them the rights not to be unnecessarily subjected to deadly disease and not to die of cancer unnecessarily due to medical neglect.

We’ve heard the “health freedom” narrative. What’s the real story? Let’s start with a Washington Post story from last week:

Less than two weeks after 3-year-old Noah was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, his mother claimed the cancer was gone.

“We busted out of that hospital — with no cancer cells left to spare,” Taylor Bland-Ball wrote on Facebook on April 16. “Doctors are amazed at his speedy healing and strength!”

The 22-year-old holistic birth attendant from Tampa said her son had undergone two rounds of chemotherapy — “because they can get a medical court order to force you to do it anyways for a child with his diagnosis” — but also tried a number of home remedies. Rosemary and colloidal silver, reishi mushroom tea and bitter apricot seeds, to name a few. “This is one of our many alternative therapies for healing. #NatureHeals,” she wrote.

But by Monday, police were telling a different story about Noah’s healing progress.

Here’s the Facebook post:

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia? That’s the same cancer Makayla Sault had that killed her when her treatment was interrupted because her parents decided to pursue traditional medicine instead of effective chemotherapy. So we have the unfortunately “classic” template: A young child is diagnosed with an eminently treatable and potentially curable cancer whose, enamored of “natural healing,” decide to forego or prematurely stop chemotherapy. In this case. In this case, the parents allowed two cycles of chemotherapy, after which they balked. Then, like the parents of several of the other children with cancer whose parents wanted to treat them with “natural” therapy instead of effective therapy, Noah McAdams’ parents bolted with him. The McAdams family lived in Florida, and Noah was being treated at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.

When the parents didn’t bring Noah for his next round of chemotherapy, Hillsborough County Child Protective Services were notified and got a court order to take him into protective custody. Authorities issued an endangered child alert, resulting in a nationwide hunt for the child and his parents, complete with the family’s photos appearing on TV screens and websites. It didn’t take long for police to locate McAdams and Bland-Ball at a Kentucky motel. They took Noah McAdams to a hospital. After that, in a court ruling on May 2, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Lisa Campbell ruled that Noah McAdams be placed in the custody of his grandparents while legal proceedings continued. On May 8, she also ruled:

A Florida judge ruled Wednesday that a 3-year-old diagnosed with leukemia must continue chemotherapy treatment against the wishes of his parents.

Noah McAdams, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in April, was ordered by a Hillsborough County judge to complete at least the first phase of a prescribed chemotherapy treatment.

His parents, Taylor Bland and Joshua McAdams, had asked the court to allow them to forgo chemotherapy, in favor of alternative treatments, including medicinal cannabis, vitamins and diet, according to CNN affiliate WFLA.

The judge’s ruling says the parents are free to pursue other alternatives while Noah continues with treatment.

Noah has two more chemotherapy sessions as a part of the first phase of his treatment, which is expected to resume Thursday, according to family attorney Mike Minardi.

He was originally prescribed three phases of chemotherapy treatment. The judge will decide whether Noah must continue with the next two phases of treatment after bone marrow testing is completed. The full chemotherapy treatment plan would last more than three years, Minardi said.


Wednesday’s decision also allows Bland and McAdams to complete Noah’s treatment at a different hospital. His parents were dissatisfied with Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in Tampa, Florida, and are looking to move to another oncology program, Minardi said.The hospital declined to confirm details of the situation to CNN.

I would recommend Moffitt Cancer Center, which is in nearby Tampa. It has the advantage of being a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. Of course, what I suspect is that the parents are looking for a woo-friendly hospital, although it’s also likely that whatever trust there was between the Hopkins pediatric oncologists and the parents was destroyed by their acting for the good of Noah and reporting the parents after they failed to bring Noah for his appointment on April 22.

Unfortunately, another aspect of this case is that a “health freedom” organization, the Florida Freedom Alliance, has glommed onto the case, describing it thusly:

Early in April Noah was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. After 2 rounds of chemotherapy, which parents reluctantly agreed to because they were told the courts could force them to comply, along with other proven therapies used to treat cancer, including very specific dietary intervention, IV vitamin therapy, herbal supplementation, and alternative therapies, Noah and his parents celebrated that his cancer was no longer being detected. Due to the laws in the US children 18 and under are required to undergo the full recommended treatment plan of the pediatric oncologist regardless of the progress or desire for alternative opinions or treatments. Yes, children are being forced to continue undergoing toxic treatments even when their bodies are free of any cancer.

This is the fundamental misunderstanding of the treatment of leukemias and lymphomas, particularly childhood leukemias and lymphomas, that drives this sort of child-endangering activism. Indeed, I’ve written about the treatment of leukemias like this one before and note that, for all my railing against parents choosing quackery over effective medicine, what’s really critical here is understanding why parents make these choices. Having a child with cancer is a horrible, terrifying thing to go through. Having to watch a child suffer the complications of chemotherapy with the child too young to understand why it’s necessary and why his parents are forcing him to suffer through it is even harder. It’s very understandable that parents with a tendency toward believing in natural medicine or with just a distrust of medical authorities in general would be tempted by the siren song of quacks claiming that they can cure the child without all the toxic side effects of chemotherapy. Hell, it’s understandable that even parents not inclined towards “natural healing” who have a solid understanding of science might start to have doubts.

In particular, it’s often hard for parents to understand why after leukemias like this frequently respond dramatically, appearing to disappear to nothing after the first couple of courses of chemotherapy, more chemotherapy is still required. Unfortunately, for most pediatric tumors it takes a lot more than just a round or two of chemotherapy, a lesson painfully learned by pioneering pediatric oncologists back in the 1960s and 1970s. For the type of tumor that Noah McAdams has, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, there are three phases of treatment:

  • Remission induction (the current phase that Noah is undergoing): The goal is to kill the leukemia cells in the blood and bone marrow to put the leukemia into remission.
  • Consolidation /intensification: This is the second phase of treatment and begins once the leukemia is in remission. The goal of consolidation/intensification therapy is to kill any leukemia cells that remain in the body and may cause a relapse.
  • Maintenance: This is the third phase of treatment. The goal is to kill any remaining leukemia cells that may regrow and cause a relapse. Often the cancer treatments are given in lower doses than those used during the remission induction and consolidation/intensification phases. Not taking medication as ordered by the doctor during maintenance therapy increases the chance the cancer will come back. This is also called the continuation therapy phase.

It’s easy to understand how Noah McAdams’ parents could have seen Noah’s dramatic response to chemotherapy, with all the leukemic cells seemingly gone. Unfortunately, as we now know, for many patients this remission is only temporary, hence the need for additional consolidation/intensification and maintenance therapies lasting for three years. Indeed, I’m very, very concerned about one part of the judge’s ruling, in which she stated that she will decide “whether Noah must continue with the next two phases of treatment after bone marrow testing is completed.” What if his bone marrow doesn’t show any leukemic cells? That’s no reason not to continue with the next two phases of chemotherapy. I fear very much that after Noah undergoes his next two cycles of chemotherapy, Judge Campbell will see a bone marrow aspirate with no leukemic cells and be tempted to let his parents treat him with cannabis and all the other cancer quackery they wanted to use instead of chemotherapy. I can definitely see it happening, as the judge’s ruling definitely reeks of punting the full question. She should have ruled that Noah McAdams receive the full course of treatment for his disease. Of course, Florida being Florida, there’s probably some bone-headed law that forced her to rule this way. I’ll be keeping an eye on this case.