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The Cancer of Good Intentions

The Cancer of Good Intentions

One indelible memory I have from the last days of my father’s life was rifling through his filing cabinet at 3 AM. This was not a scheming attempt to uncover some dark family secret, and shamelessly confront him with it on his deathbed. No, I was dispatched to run a reconnaissance mission back to my father’s home office looking for a “do not resuscitate” order (DNR), which essentially functions as an advanced directive in writing from a patient who does not wish to have “unnecessary” life sustaining treatment, and instead wishes to have a more natural death. I was moved to rush, as the attending physician at the hospital said he was about to put my father on life support unless he received legal notice not to do so. Knowing my father, and the specifics of his wishes, I knew the last thing he would want was to be brain dead, indefinitely hospitalized, and hooked up to a machine that went “beep-beep-beep.”

Long story short: I found the DNR with a few minutes to spare and my father ultimately got his parting wish.

I was reminded of this significant moment in my life recently by the trials and tribulations of Daniel Hauser, a 13-year-old Minnesota boy suffering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, who just last week lost a court battle he and his family waged to refuse any further invasive treatments (chemo, radiation, etc) and instead (with the consent of his parents) explore a more holistic approach to wellness and health. Hauser’s doctors claim that Daniel has a 90 percent chance of survival with treatment and a 95 percent chance of not seeing the end of the year if he doesn’t receive treatment. Fairly grim statistics. However, Daniel and his parents are ardent believers in a more natural path of treatment (the practices of the native American Nemenhah religious organization) and have a tremendous amount of faith in following this discipline toward a cure. Daniels mother says, “we believe in traditional methods. To strip that away would be stripping his soul right out of his body.”

Since the court ruling in favor of continuing chemotherapy against the will of the family as well as young Daniel, he and his mother have gone missing (most likely fleeing the mandate of the court) and have ignited a firestorm about parents rights, religious freedom, child endangerment, and personal freedoms.

It is difficult to know how this particular case will be resolved, but judging from the emotional uproar around the Terri Schiavo case from a few years back, we are likely to hear a lot of moral grandstanding and admonishments before anyone is truly cared for.

This particular case with Daniel Hauser appears to be suitably complicated, with doubts and dispersions being cast upon the parents and the ailing child being made into a symbolic martyr for the cause (what cause it may be is still unclear). Regardless, the whole tumult brings up difficult and troubling questions about not only life and euthanasia, but also how family members and loved ones choose to administer (or not) the needed care.

So how does this all sit with you? Are the parents just kooks and unfit to take care of their ailing child? Is the court way out of line and infringing on both individual and religious freedoms along with civil rights? Should the protection of life be the be all and end all?

Read more: Blogs, Children, Parenting at the Crossroads, , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

41 comments

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3:45AM PDT on Jul 7, 2011

wonder how this case ended up. My instinct would be to side with the family, as they sounded educated rather than ignorant.

9:08PM PDT on Jul 27, 2009

* John M. says
* May 29, 2009 11:54 AM

The court did exactly the right thing. By refusing to treat their child with a condition that is curable using chemotherapy, and for which 'alternative medicine' is going to be completely useless, they were endangering their child's life.
your assertions that the courts did the right thing with this boy are complete and utter nonsense. the courts have no rights to rule our choices. this was guarentted by our constitution.

now addressing your cancer treatments statments here. a survey was done with many doctors. each was asked if they would endure the riggers of chemotherapy, and 78% said without hesitation, hhell no. If so many doctors are unwilling to endure this treatment, then how can any court or any person in their right minds force any person to endure this?
just to illistrate, i was in the hospital once for a simple kidney stone. this stone blocked my kedney so as it would not function properly,so a decision was made by doctors that a tube shoould be put in my kidney. Myself as well as my wife we both told by the doctor this procedure would be 100% painless(as they did not wish to knock me out) only administer local anestetics.so based on what the doctors had said, my wife signed these papers. this was actually the worst pain i had ever suffered, as i fent every second of this incission being made as the doctors yelled at me to lay still .
after wards i asked this doctor had he ever had this procedure done?

9:06PM PDT on Jul 27, 2009

* John M. says
* May 29, 2009 11:54 AM

The court did exactly the right thing. By refusing to treat their child with a condition that is curable using chemotherapy, and for which 'alternative medicine' is going to be completely useless, they were endangering their child's life.

There may be times when alternatives to conventional medicine are appropriate, but these are certainly not when treating cancers.

And the ridiculous claim posted that cancer is only 3% curable is typical scaremongering. Different cancer types are more or less difficult to cure than others, and this child has a cancer with a very high cure rate.

And Pam H., "The drugs they use in chemical therapy are so strong that the medical staff have to wear masks and gloves to administer it" is complete nonsense too. Chemotherapy increases the risks of infections in cancer patients. It is for this reason that doctors cover up to administer these drugs.

And Harry's post is just so wrong that I don't even know where to start!



your assertions that the courts did the right thing with this boy are complete and utter nonsense. the courts have no rights to rule our choices. this was guarentted by our constitution.

now addressing your cancer treatments statments here. a survey was done with many doctors. each was asked if they would endure the riggers of chemotherapy, and 78% said without hesitation, hhell no. If so many doctors are unwilling to endure this treatment, then how can any

10:24AM PDT on Jun 19, 2009

thankyou...
Kabin
Konteyner
mega kabin

10:46AM PDT on Jun 15, 2009

Clearly, all in favor of making anybody go trough this kind of invasive treatments against their will, have never had to see a loved one, begging to stop, wanting to die, so taht the torture ends already...
EVERYBODY SHOULD HAVE THE RIGHT TO DECIDE IF THEY WANT OR NOT A CONVENTIONAL TREATMENT.
If those treatments are so effective, how come, doctors don´t want to go trough them if they have cancer? Who stated that only conventional medicine is good, effective and mandatory?
If conventional medicine is so good, Why now there are more dideases than ever before in humankind?

10:31PM PDT on Jun 10, 2009

please visit http://akulibraries.blogspot.com/

10:41PM PDT on Jun 2, 2009

I live in Singapore and here we were shocked at how the US courts could rule that the boy MUST seek treatment. Here, it is a personal freedom and no one has the right to dictate who should seek what treatment. Personally, a relative of mine had a brain tumour. His daughter was a doctor. She decided early on that her father should NOT undergo any treatment at all (except be on painkillers when and if needed), and arranged for him to tour the world in his last days. She paid for his trip and he managed to visit all the countries he longed to see before finally passing away. He died still looking good, and relatively healthy and very happy, up to his last days.

12:24PM PDT on Jun 1, 2009

This is a tough one, but the effectiveness of prayer and other "alternative therapies" (e.g., Tong Ren) is so well documented that -- were the boy's well-being the ONLY issue -- the court might be equally remiss in not insisting that the boy be prayed for. That, of course, would violate the constitution. That won't keep ME from praying for him, however....

5:11AM PDT on Jun 1, 2009

Beryl, I wouldn't be too sure about people having that right in NZ. Don't you remember a couple of years ago when a little boy was dying of cancer and his parents had to take him into hiding to avoid the courts seizing him, making him a ward of the court, and forcing the chemotherapy on him?

He was going to die anyway, but the powers that be in NZ wanted to make sure he had his fair share of pain and horror instead of a peaceful, loving end in the arms of his parents.

4:26PM PDT on May 30, 2009

I agree with what Danials parents are doing, what right do the courts have to tell them what to do it is their son.
Here in NewZealand we do have that right.

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