Religious Freedom or Child Abuse?

Posted May 16, 2009

Daniel Hauser
A Minnesota Court ruled Friday on a case which has been stirring up discussion on the blogosphere and in facebook circles. Daniel Hauser, a 13 year old boy with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, is now protected by the state of Minnesota who will ensure that he receives life-saving treatment after his parents refused chemotherapy in favor of “natural remedies like herbs and vitamins” on religious grounds.

Daniel’s tumor shrunk after a single round of chemotherapy (the only treatment available), but, like most patients, he experience side effects. His parents asked for a second opinion, then a third opinion, then consulted an osteopath. The three pediatric oncologists, their family practice doctor, and the osteopath agreed with the prescribed treatment and all informed the parents of this assessment. Daniel’s 5-year survival chances were 80-95% with treatment, but only 5% without it. Still, the parents refused the treatment.

There was no testimony during the trial from a health care practitioner who examined Daniel which disagreed with the recommendations of the 5 doctors.

Comments on various posts about this case ranged from disgust that superstition was chosen (by Daniel & his parents) over scientific knowledge to fear that the state is infringing on individual rights or meddling in religious affairs. Personally, I find the parents’ actions negligent at best.

The facts in this case are very interesting and the ruling should ease those fears of state meddling. In particular, the judge explicitly stated in the ruling that an adult in a similar situation would have a legal right to refuse treatment, but a 13 year old who lacks the capacity to give informed consent does not. Here are some of the more important facts put forth in the judgment:

  • Although neither he nor his parents are of Native American ancestry and they are “traditional Catholics”, Daniel is considered by his Nemenhah tribe to be a medicine man and elder. Nevertheless, he could not tell the judge what the word “elder” means, how he became a medicine man, or what teachings he has mastered in Nemenhah medicine.
  • At 13 years of age and enrolled in the 5th grade, Daniel cannot read. He does not recognize the word “the”.
  • Daniel understands “do no harm”, but no other Nemenhah principle or spiritual practice.
  • Daniel does not understand what chemotherapy is other than that it is something that made him feel sick. He was told that his aunt died from chemotherapy.
  • Daniel and his parents believe that he is currently not ill, but the evidence suggests that he is very ill.

  • Daniel’s parents made no mention of religious conflicts when they consented to the first round of chemotherapy.
  • Daniel is not fully aware of what his religious beliefs are. This makes no sense to me. One cannot belief something without knowing they believe it!
  • The treatments attempted by the parents included “starving” the cancer by giving Daniel “high pH water…because cancer does not thrive in an alkaline environment” and feeding him greens, some proteins, and no sugars; she learned these things from the internet…
  • Multiple statutes provide that “complimentary and alternative health care” is not sufficient to fulfill the state’s requirement that parents provide necessary medical care for their children.

I cannot imagine the court ruling any other way.


A VERY SAD UPDATE on May 20, 2009: Daniel Hauser and his parents failed to show up in court today for a hearing.

A doctor who administered the X-ray says he told Daniel and his mother yesterday the tumor had increased significanly in size and the cancer has spread. The doctor suggested the family make a hospital appointment immediately, but they said “no” and left.

Although they have yet to locate Daniel, the child’s lawyer has recommended the state take custody of him. The judge as since issued an arrest warrant for Daniel’s mother.

UPDATE (As of September, 2009): Approximately one week after Daniel and his mother fled, they returned and he submitted to chemotherapy. Daniel’s cancer went into remission, but of course the Hausers attributed this to the alternative treatments he received prior to chemotherapy, stating that the tumor was weakened by them.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email