A 13-year-old Minnesota boy with cancer must resume medical treatment to save his life, despite religious and other objections by his family -- unless it already is too late, a Brown County judge ruled Friday.
Judge John Rodenberg said Daniel Hauser must have a chest X-ray by next Tuesday, and ordered lawyers and the family back into his courtroom that day to give him an update on the boy's condition.
"Daniel Hauser is a child in need of protection," Rodenberg wrote, noting that five doctors agreed on the recommended course of treatment. The county, he said, had proved "a compelling state interest in the life and welfare of Daniel sufficient to override the fundamental constitutional rights of both the parents and Daniel to the free exercise of religion and the due process right of the parents to direct the upbringing of their child."
An attorney for the Hausers said Friday that the family will comply for now and has scheduled X-rays for Monday, but is considering an appeal.
"The Hausers believe that the injection of chemotherapy into Danny Hauser amounts to an assault upon his body, and torture when it occurs over a long period of time," said their attorney, Calvin Johnson of Mankato. "They believe that it is against the spiritual law to invade the consciousness of another person without their permission."
County Attorney James Olson, who petitioned for the court's intervention, said the judge's decision "gets things started." But even with the X-ray, he said, doctors may not have a prognosis for Daniel by Tuesday's hearing, and the judge may require more information before issuing a final order on chemotherapy.
Daniel was diagnosed in January with Hodgkin's lymphoma, but the Hausers stopped his chemotherapy and radiation after one treatment and began substituting alternative care, including herbs and vitamins. His doctors notified child protection officials, prompting Olson to file a child neglect petition.
In a 58-page ruling, Rodenberg said Daniel should remain in the custody of his parents, Anthony and Colleen Hauser of Sleepy Eye, "provided that the parents get the chest X-ray" and choose an oncologist to provide chemotherapy if ordered.
Minnesota laws require parents to provide children with "medically necessary care," he wrote. He said the Hausers may continue with their natural remedies, but added that providing "complementary and alternative health care is not sufficient."
If the Legislature reconsiders the relevant laws, the judge said, "I am confident that I join all of the others involved in this matter in hoping, and indeed in praying, that Daniel Hauser lives to testify at that hearing."
However, he wrote, "this matter ... involves a 13-year-old child who has only a rudimentary understanding at best of the risks and benefits of chemotherapy ... He does not believe he is very ill currently. The fact is that he is very ill," the opinion said. The order is posted on the Minnesota state courts website, www.mncourts.gov.
Dr. Greg Plotnikoff, an integrative medicine expert at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, said the judge's decision provides a way "to build on the family's strengths and spiritual beliefs by combining the widest wide range of treatments -- acupuncture, herbs, ginger for nausea -- and chemotherapy, which is clearly the key to treatment.
"I hope the family doesn't feel trapped," Plotnikoff added. "Really, they're lucky in to be in Minnesota, where we routinely combine traditional medical care with alternative treatment to get better outcomes."
But Diane Miller, a Minnesota lawyer and director of legal and public policy for the National Health Freedom Coalition, said the court erred by not allowing the Hausers to follow their beliefs.
"They should be free to choose or not choose chemotherapy or any other medical treatment," she said. "Unfortunately, doctors will be disciplined here if they don't recommend chemotherapy."
Good intentions, but neglect
In court documents, the Hausers argued that the state was usurping their rights to medical and religious freedom. They told Rodenberg that they are practicing Catholics but also belong to a Native American religious group, the Nemenhah, which advocates natural healing.
The judge said that while the parents' beliefs and good intentions are not disputed, "medical neglect as defined by Minnesota law most definitely occurred." He was referring specifically to two recent doctor visits when a chest X-ray was recommended, and refused by the parents, to see if Daniel's lymphoma had spread.
He noted that Colleen Hauser testified that she would again consider chemotherapy if Daniel's condition worsened, but pointed out that another X-ray is necessary to make that decision.
At last week's court hearing in New Ulm, cancer specialists from Children's Hospitals & Clinics of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic testified that Daniel had an 80 to 90 percent chance of surviving with chemotherapy and radiation, but likely will die within five years without it.