Parents' rights on children's medical treatmen in hot debate in U.S.
A federal warrant to arrest an American mother who ran away with her son to flee medical treatment has raised questions in the United States whether parents have the right on their children's medical treatment and to what degree the government can intervene in this aspect.
Daniel Hauser, a 13-year-old boy in Minnesota , was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a kind of cancer doctors say is highly curable unless it is too late for the chemotherapy to work.
But after only one treatment, his parents decided to stop chemotherapy. Then the government intervened. A judge ruled that Hauser's parents were neglecting for stopping their son's chemotherapy and ordered them to appear in court on Tuesday.
However, on Tuesday, only Hauser's father Anthony showed up in court, while the boy's mother Colleen Hauser failed to report to the judge.
Anthony Hauser told the judge that his wife and son disappeared, but he did not know where they were, nor did they tell him where they would go.
The judge ruled that it was in the boy's best interests to resume medical treatment for fear that the boy would die without proper treatment. The judge also issued a warrant to arrest Colleen Hauser and ordered that the boy be placed in a foster home, which means the boy's parents would have no right to take care of their son.
An alert issued to police departments around the U.S. said the mother and the son might be traveling with a California lawyer named Susan Daya. They might be in Los Angeles and on their way to Mexico .
Daniel Hauser's name has been added to the database of the national Missing and Exploited Children's Network and any local police could arrest the mother if she were located.
The case has sparked debate about parental rights versus state intervention.
Colleen Hauser told the judge in a previous court appearance that she decided to quit her son's chemotherapy because she and her son believe that chemotherapy violates their religious convictions and she had opted to use herbal supplements, vitamins, ionized water and other natural alternatives to treat her son.
Authorities believe that Colleen was heading to Los Angeles and would leave for Mexico to seek the kind of treatment she believes would cure her son's illness.
Colleen Hauser reportedly said she would treat her son's cancer with natural healing methods advocated by an American Indian religious group know as the Nemenhah Band. However, they themselves are not American Indians.
Medical ethicists say parents generally have a legal right to make decisions for their children, but there is a limit.
"You have a right, but not an open-ended right," Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, was quoted as saying last week. "You can't compromise the life of your child."
Minnesota has a state law requiring parents to provide necessary medical care for a child. Failure to do so would be ruled as violating the law. In the Daniel Hauser case, the judge seemed to have made the rule based on the state law. However, the state law also has exemptions.
Most states in the U.S. have similar laws. A few have exemptions allowing parents to refuse treatment on religious grounds, and Minnesota was one of the states with exemptions.
Caplan, who is one of the foremost medical ethicists in the U.S., said religious exceptions are bad public policy because effective medical treatment for a child shouldn't be sacrificed for a parent's beliefs.
Daniel Deng, an attorney in Los Angeles, said there are two issues involving the case. One is child negligence and the other is kidnapping. If a child is not properly treated by doctors, the parents could be accused of negligence or child endangerment. In the Daniel Hauser case, to stop chemotherapy could be reason to be ruled by a judge of child negligence.
He said if one of the parents takes a child away without the other's agreement, that could be charged as kidnapping. Therefore, if Colleen Hauser were arrested by local police, she could be sent back to Minnesota to face felony charges of kidnapping and child negligence.
Several similar cases have taken place in the U.S. in recent years in which parents fled with a sick child to avoid medical treatments.
Reports said Parker Jensen, a 12-year-old boy, was taken by his family to flee from Utah to Idaho in 2003 to avoid court-ordered chemo after doctors removed a small cancerous tumor under his tongue.
His parents Daren and Barbara Jensen pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in a deal that brought no jail time or fines. The parents later became active in lobbying for legislation to strengthen the rights of parents.