Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Redefining Parental Rights: The Latest Battle

The latest battle over parental rights involves a 16 year-old Virginia cancer patient who wants to stop chemotherapy. Even though his parents are supportive, a judge is not and has ordered a resumption of treatment, stripped the parents of full custody, and charged them with neglect:
Starchild Abraham Cherrix, 16, wants to continue treating his Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymph nodes, with an organic diet and herbal supplements under advisement from a clinic in Mexico.

A judge last week ordered him to be at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk by today at 1 p.m. and accept treatment prescribed by doctors.

But a hearing is scheduled for today at noon in Accomack County Circuit Court to consider Cherrix's request to stay the judge's order.

Attorney General Bob McDonnell yesterday filed a brief supporting the teen's request to delay the judge's order until the appeals process is complete, a spokesman for McDonnell confirmed.

An appeal yesterday in Accomack Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court was denied, but the hearing in the circuit court gives the teen another chance to delay the original ruling.

"I'll fight until I do die. I'm not going to let it go," Cherrix told The Associated Press yesterday by phone from his home on Virginia's Eastern Shore. He said he was so weakened by three months of chemotherapy last year that at times he could barely walk. "I would rather die healthy and strong and in my house than die in a hospital bed, bedridden and unable to even open my eyes."

When Cherrix's cancer came back in February, he decided to pursue an alternative remedy.

After urging from the state Department of Social Services that Cherrix get traditional treatment, Judge Jesse E. Demps of Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court ruled Friday that the teen's parents were neglectful for allowing him to use the alternative therapy and ordered them to share custody with social services, as he had in a previous ruling. The parents must also give written consent to the hospital care.

Cherrix's story has appeared on CNN, "Today" and in USA Today, and it has raised questions about parents' and children's rights to make decisions about medical treatment.

"Anybody who has a child living within the commonwealth of Virginia should be extremely fearful of this case," said Barry Taylor, one of the attorneys representing Cherrix.

Taylor said they were appealing on the grounds that the hospital care would do irreparable harm to the treatment he is undergoing, and that mandating the hospital care only a few days after the ruling gives no chance for an appeal.

Cherrix and his parents, Jay and Rose Cherrix, plan to appear in court with their lawyers, the AP reported.

Taylor declined to comment on whether the teen would comply and go to the hospital if the circuit court upheld the earlier ruling but said after the noon hearing that "we're going to have to carefully consider whether we're going to disobey the court's order or whether we're going to submit to it."

He said it would be impossible to get to Norfolk by 1 p.m. in any event.

An official with the state Department of Social Services said the agency agrees with the original judge's ruling.

"The responsibility of Virginia's Child Protective Services program is to ensure the safety and well-being of all children in the commonwealth," Anthony Conyers Jr., commissioner of the department, said in a statement.

"One of the most difficult decisions of the CPS program requires balancing the rights of the parents with the health of the child," Conyers said. "In this case, the Department of Social Services agrees with the final decision to order treatment made by the Accomack County Juvenile and Domestic Relations [District] Court."

Taylor said the Cherrix family is prepared to continue filing appeals, pending the outcome of today's hearing.
I think that the judge's ruling will likely be upheld on appeal. Even so, I can't help but wonder if Judge Jesse Demps is prepared to send officers over to the Cherrix home and physically remove Starchild and restrain him while administering the medication?
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