Chemo begins for Amish girl


Flint Journal (Michigan)/April 22, 1999
By Shantell M. Kirkendoll and Ken Palmer

Against her parents' wishes, Mary Stutzman, a 3-year-old with leukemia, began chemotherapy Wednesday at Hurley Medical Center.

According to their attorney, Mary's parents believe the procedures are excessive and against God's will. Ananius and Delia Stutzman are Amish and had rejected the treatment suggested by Hurley doctors. Yet The hospital sought and won a court order this week to give the child chemotheraphy and a spinal tap - because it could prolong her life.

"They object to the excessive degree to which Western medicine invades the body and destroys normal life cells," attorney Rande F. Wright said in a petition filed with the court. "They believe in the building up of life cells through family love, support, prayer and homeopathic medicine."

Mary's parents could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But Wright said they plan to appeal the ruling.

"Obviously, we're disappointed in the court's ruling," Wright said.

The rights to practice their religious beliefs and to choose medical treatment for their children are big issues in the Amish community, he said.

"Part of the fallout is that members of the Amish community - not just (in Gladwin) but the rest of Michigan - are getting the feeling they cannot take their children to doctors because they fear their rights will be taken away from them," Wright said.

in a court petition, Wright said the family belongs to an old-order Amish group that originated in Dort, Holland, during the 1600s. Mary, who has Down Syndrome, is one of seven children in the Stutzman family who live on a farming collective in Gladwin.

Amish, typically, shun influence from the outside world, such as using electricity or telephones. More conservative Amish also refuse conventional medicine.

"Amish are not opposed to medical care," said Gertrude Enders Huntington, a University of Michigan lecturer who has studied Ohio's Amish since 1951. "What they are opposed to are any remedies that will cause the child physical or psychological discomfort on a mere chance that they'll stay alive."

The old-order group prefers homeopathic remedies - a form of medicine that relies on minute amounts of herbs, minerals and other substances to stimulate a person's natural defenses and help the body heal itself. The group views Western medical practices as crossing God's will.

"The Amish are not convinced that children can be helped by suffering," Huntington said. "They are not afraid of death in that the child will go to heaven and one day the family will be reunited."

According to testimony in hearings that began last week, the girl was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, a form of leukemia that most frequently affects children. A doctor at Hurley testified that the girl would die within weeks or months if her condition went untreated.

With standard treatment, which includes spinal taps and chemotherapy, the girl would have a 65 percent probability for long-term survival, meaning she could live well into middle age, the doctor said.

Though Judge Bruce A. Newman, a probate judge assigned to the family division of Genesee County Circuit Court, ruled in favor of the hospital's care this week, he also allowed the parents to seek other opinions.

Newman said Hurley must give another doctor access to the patient and her medical records.

Wright said the family wants Mary to be examined at the Focus on Family Clinic in Goshen, Ind., where treatment would include "electrodermal screening," a system approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The clinic would scan for toxins and energy imbalances within the child's body. The condition would then be treated with homeopathic techniques and herbal supplements to help the body balance and heal itself. The clinic has cured cancers in some people, Wright said.

Wright said the family talked with a doctor in the Kalamazoo area who would use, depending on Mary's white blood count, homeopathic techniques and some chemotherapy.

Newman said the child's case involves a number of conflicting principles, including the state's interest in preserving life, parents' rights to decide treatment for their children and the freedom to exercise religious beliefs.

In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court held that states have a legitimate interest in preserving human life, Newman said.

He also cited a 1992 Michigan Court of Appeals ruling that set two different standards for determining a parent's right to choose medical treatment for a child.

In cases where the child had been able to make an informed choice, parents can substitute their judgment in accord with what their child would have wanted, the appeals court said.

But in cases where the child was never competent to make the decision, a guardian must make a good-faith effort to determine what is in the child's best interest, the court said.

As a 3-year-old with Down Syndrome, Mary lacked the age and abilities to subscribe to any religious beliefs and choose her care, Newman said.

The judge noted that Mary is suffering at least some generalized pain and that she could suffer potentially severe side effects from standard treatment.

But absent more information about the alternative treatment and its chances for success, he deemed the standard treatment in her best interest.

Attorney Ed Goldman, a member of the University of Michigan Hospital Pediatric Ethics Committee, said adult patients can walk out of the hospital if they wish, citing religious reasons for refusing treatment, but the situation is different when the patient is a child.

"You respect the parents' wishes, but child protection laws are based on preserving a child's main right to grow up," Goldman said.

UM follows the same procedure being followed at Hurley. Goldman said UM will allow the family's preferred treatment as a long as it is not counter to the hospital's care.

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