Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Minnesota Mom and Son Fleeing Chemo

There is a nationwide alert and an arrest warrant out for a Minnesota mother and her son who has Hodgkin's disease, a form of cancer that is curable in a high percentage of cases with conventional treatment strategies such as chemotherapy. The parents belong to a religious group that advocates herbal treatment of human ailments and views with disfavour chemotherapy. Associated Press reports as follows.

"Colleen Hauser and her son, Daniel, were seen as recently as Tuesday morning in Southern California and might be headed to Mexico to seek treatment for Daniel's Hodgkin's lymphoma, authorities said Wednesday night. They would only say the pair's location was based on "reliable information."

A court-ordered X-ray on Monday showed a tumor growing in Daniel's chest, and doctors said it will probably kill him without conventional medical treatment.

Before she took off, Hauser told a judge that she wished to treat her son's cancer with natural healing methods advocated by an American Indian religious group known as the Nemenhah Band. But even that group's founder said Hauser made a mistake by running from the law."

It is interesting to note that the mother was not fleeing treatment for her son. She was in fact going to a clinic in Mexico for a treatment not approved by the US government. This actually takes the case out of the realm of simple neglect, which it would be if the parents were refusing treatment for the child.

I heard a story from a friend who served in the army with a man from a rural mountain area. The man got a severe infection in his hand and was told by army doctors that he would need to have the hand amputated. The man fled the army base as soon as he got the news. He was gone long enough to be officially AWOL. He eventually returned. His hand was free of any trace of infection. His commanding officer was in a quandary. Although he had violated orders, he was completely cured. His commanding officer asked him what happened. The man knew from family tradition which herbs to use in case of infection. He was with G-d's help able to treat himself not with antibiotics but with the knowledge of herbs that had been handed down through his family.

How much do we learn from medical traditions that are not politically dominant? My mother came down with a severe sore throat in China. She would have undoubtedly have been given an antibiotic in America. The doctor prescribes her chocolate coated pills that had the smell of black licorice. Her sore throat was with G-d's help gone in two days.

When my oldest child was born we were told that he should sleep on his stomach. Now conventional wisdom is that babies should sleep on their back. After thousands of years of raising infants, how many further changes of medical opinion await the public?

Religion and diet are not the only manifestations of our nation's diversity. There are different schools of medical thought as well. My mother and father used to argue about chiroprractic medicine. My mother placed a lot of confidence in it. My father did not. Handwriting analysis is highly respected in Europe and accorded legal recognition there. It is not accepted in America legally as a tool of psychological diagnosis.

Even doctors disagree. There have been fringe ideas adopted in mainstream medicine. I am reluctant to give official government recognition to one form of medicine over another. Mrs Hauser has been investing time, energy and money in treating her child. To say that she is neglecting her child is a distortion. This seems to be a test case since the cure rate for Hodgkin's disease is so high using conventional methods. There are people who die using alternative medicine. But people die in conventional treatment as well. News reports make passing mention of individuals who were cured of Hodgkin's disease and other cancers using alternative methods and treatment strategies.

The Minnesota case is troubling. In case of cancer, my personal preferences run towards conventional treatment. But that should be my choice. The government should step in in cases of neglect. But to condemn alternative forms of medicine as neglect is a politically loaded judgement. The Hausers should not be hunted for exercising their parental judgement in treating their child. They are caring parents. They should be able to stay in their own home without fear of arrest at this trying time.

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