NEW ULM, MINN.
The mother of 13-year-old Daniel Hauser testified Friday that she and her son would refuse to comply with any court order requiring the boy to resume chemotherapy for his cancer.
"Danny clearly made up his mind. He's not doing it,'' Colleen Hauser, of Sleepy Eye, Minn., testified on the opening day of a trial over whether a court should order the boy into medical treatment against the family's wishes.
Hauser, whose son was diagnosed in January with Hodgkin's lymphoma, said conventional treatments such as chemotherapy conflict with the family's religious beliefs. She said they prefer natural remedies such as herbs and vitamins.
Asked where she learned about the alternative healing techniques, Hauser said, "on the Internet.''
Daniel sat stoically through the opening part of the trial as his first oncologist, Dr. Bruce Bostrom of Children's Hospitals and Clinics in Minneapolis, testified that his chances of survival would drop to 5 percent without treatment.
The boy left shortly afterward and never returned to the courtroom. He is scheduled to testify this morning in a closed session before the judge, after his lawyer said he was uncomfortable talking in open court. The case is expected to be finished today, and the judge said he didn't expect to issue a ruling this weekend.
As a day of tense testimony began, dozens of family friends and supporters lined the courtroom, but the mood was subdued. At one point, a handful of natural-health advocates arrived with signs to show their support for the Hausers. But they were ordered to leave their placards outside the courthouse.
The Hausers declined to speak to reporters after Friday's court session. But Dan Zwakman, a member of the Nemenhah religious group to which they belong, acted as the family spokesman. He argued that this is a case about religious freedom, noting that the group's motto is "our religion is our medicine."
The basic premise, he said, is "that we will do no harm. Chemotherapy is known to be dangerous. It's a killer."
On the witness stand, Daniel's mother showed little emotion as she testified in a soft voice about her son's ordeal.
She said that on the day Daniel had his chemotherapy in February, she felt pressured into signing the consent form, and never intended to agree to the full six treatments that his doctors at Children's Hospitals and Clinics had recommended.
"At that time, I was so emotionally distraught, I didn't know what I was doing," she said.
She said Daniel was furious when he realized he would be getting the treatment.
"Mom, I'm walking out of here," she said he told her, "and he almost did."
The boy refused to go back for the five additional treatments and his parents concurred, which ultimately triggered a child-endangerment petition filed by Brown County Attorney James Olson.
Hauser said her family members are "traditional Catholics,'' but said she has long believed in natural medicine, which led them to join the Nemenhah, an American Indian religious organization.
"This is our religious belief,'' she said. "We believe in traditional methods. To strip that away would be stripping his soul right out of his body.''
Asked about Bostrom's testimony that Daniel faced a grim outlook without chemotherapy, Hauser said: "I've heard him say that. That's not what I believe.''
Medical experts testified Friday that X-rays showed that Daniel's tumor had grown between early and late April. The doctors called that an alarming finding, and said the cancer could become even more difficult to treat the longer they wait.
Daniel's mother, however, disagreed. "I don't believe it's growing," she said, arguing that the X-rays might be showing scar tissue.
In one heated exchange, Daniel's court-appointed lawyer, Philip Elbert, pressed a Mayo Clinic oncologist, Dr. Valmarie Rodriguez, about how the boy might be forced into treatment against his will.
"If Daniel refuses to undergo chemotherapy and he's ordered to do it, then what are we going to do?" Elbert asked. "We're going to force it on him, aren't we?"
Rodriguez, who testified by speaker phone from Rochester, said she had never faced such a situation, and doubted it would come to that.
Asked directly if she would restrain or sedate the boy, Rodriguez said she would work with psychologists to deliver the care "in a compassionate way, not as punishment." She added that without treatment, "this boy is going to die."
Elbert asked if it would be ethical to sedate a 13-year-old who refused chemotherapy.
"Good question," she sighed. "I don't know."
Earlier in the day, Dr. Bruce Bostrom of Children's Hospitals and Clinics, who first diagnosed the cancer when the boy arrived at a Minneapolis emergency room in January, said Daniel has a 95 percent chance of survival if he receives chemotherapy.
Bostrom also said he believes Daniel does not fully understand his condition.
"I think that he understands that he was sick,'' Bostrom testified. "He doesn't understand that the Hodgkin's is what's making him sick, and he was led to believe that the chemotherapy was making him sick, when the exact opposite was true.''
Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384