A Minnesota judge is expected to decide whether a family can refuse chemotherapy for a 13-year-boy's cancer and treat him with natural medicine, even though doctors say it's effectively a death sentence.
With chemotherapy, Daniel Hauser has a 90 percent chance of surviving his Hodgkin's lymphoma, according to his cancer doctor. And without it?
"It is almost certain that he will die," said Dr. Bruce Bostrom, a pediatric oncologist at Children's Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota. Bostrom, who diagnosed the disease, is an ally of the legal effort in southwestern Minnesota's Brown County to make Hauser submit to chemotherapy even though he and his parents believe it's potentially more harmful than the cancer itself.
District Judge John Rodenberg was expected to rule Friday on Brown County's motion.
Bostrom said Daniel's chance of survival without chemotherapy is about 5 percent. Nevertheless, parents Colleen and Anthony Hauser are supporting what they say is their son's decision to instead treat the disease with nutritional supplements and other alternative treatments favored by the Nemenhah Band. The Missouri-based religious group believes in natural healing methods advocated by some American Indians.
"This is about the right of a 13-year-old young man to be free from acts of assault on his body," said the family's attorney, Calvin Johnson. The Hausers did not return several phone messages left at their home Thursday.
Bostrom diagnosed Daniel Hauser with Hodgkin's lymphoma in January, and recommended he undergo chemotherapy treatments once a month for six months, followed by radiation. Daniel became gravely ill about a week later and was taken to an emergency room, Bostrom said, and the family consented to the first chemotherapy treatment.
After that, Bostrom said, the family said they wanted a second opinion. They later informed him that Daniel would not undergo any more chemotherapy. Bostrom said Daniel's tumor shrunk after the first chemotherapy session.
Two other doctors who examined Daniel backed up Bostrom's assessment at a court hearing last Friday. At that hearing, Colleen Hauser testified her son became sick and depressed after the first treatment, and said the family only would consent to traditional treatments in the case of a life-threatening illness.
"My son is not in any medical danger at this point," Colleen Hauser testified. She also testified that Daniel was a medicine man and elder in the Nemenhah Band.
The mother said her son made the decision himself to refuse chemotherapy: "I think he understands he has the right to choose healthier forms of dealing with this cancer."
Brown County disagrees, and pressed the case after Bostrom notified child protection authorities.
Daniel Hauser "does not have a complete understanding of what it means to be a medicine man or an elder," Brown County Attorney James Olson wrote in a legal filing.
The Hausers, who are Roman Catholic, have eight children. Colleen Hauser told the New Ulm Journal newspaper that the family's Catholicism and adherence to the Nemenhah Band are not in conflict, and said she has treated illness with natural remedies her entire life.
Nemenhah was founded in the 1990s by Philip Cloudpiler Landis, who said Thursday that he was one-fourth American Indian. Nemenhah adherents are asked to pay $250 to be members. "We're non-dogmatic, a very universal faith," Landis said.
Landis said he founded the faith after facing his diagnosis of a cancer similar to Daniel Hauser. He said he treated it with diet choices, visits to a sweat lodge and other natural remedies. Landis also once served four months in prison in Idaho for fraud related to advocating natural remedies.
"The issue is Danny's right to decide how he wants to live his life," Landis said. "What if they make him take chemotherapy and he dies from that? The band will mourn with the family if that's the case, but we'll rejoice that Danny had the opportunity to test the law of the land."