Minor's Legal Rights Redux: Cancer Boy

At 16 years old, kids can drive a car, but can they make decisions regarding their health? This is a topic which interests me---a month ago I blogged about the topic in reference to a child whose parents had involved him in a circumcision lawsuit. When exactly are children old enough to determine what happens to their bodies?

This issue has once again received press, this time in the case of a 16-year old cancer patient who wishes to refuse chemotherapy after the first round make him sick. Instead, he wants to try an herbal cure championed by a clinic south of the border, the Hoxsey method. His parents agreed with his assessment, and stopped chemo. Social Services brought a lawsuit for neglect.

Well, the judge decided to rule in favor of the boy and his parents after they came to an agreement to see an oncologist interested in alternative therapies:

Circuit Judge Glen A. Tyler announced that both sides had reached a consent decree, which Tyler approved.

Under the decree, Starchild Abraham Cherrix, who is battling Hodgkin's disease, will be treated by an oncologist of his choice who is board-certified in radiation therapy and interested in alternative treatments.

Abraham said that he saw the doctor last week, and the doctor assured him that his cancer is curable. The teen said he'll continue following an alternative herbal treatment called the Hoxsey method as well as his doctor's treatment plan. The regimen won't include chemotherapy, but radiation is a possibility, he said.

The sale of the Hoxsey method has been banned in the US since 1960:

According to the American Cancer Society, there is no scientific evidence that Hoxsey is effective in treating cancer in people. The herbal treatment is illegal in the United States but can be obtained through clinics in Mexico, and some U.S. naturopathic practitioners use adapted versions of the formula.

The Hoxsey method is a lesson in quackery; its inventor had no medical training, and he got together with a radio broadcaster (Norman Baker) to help him hock a mixture of herbs he said cured cancer. At one time, he had clinics in 17 states, and was convicted numerous times for practicing medicine without a license. Ironically, he developed prostate cancer in 1967, and when he failed to respond to his own treatment, he died.

Medical neglect, hellz yes.

Note: Orac of Respectful Insolence has a fantastic post up about this very topic.


More like this

Sadly, Starchild Abraham Cherrix is almost certainly doomed: ACCOMAC, Virginia (AP) -- A 16-year-old cancer patient's legal fight ended in victory Wednesday when his family's attorneys and social services officials reached an agreement that would allow him to forgo chemotherapy. At the start of…
Ensconced at a conference center in North Carolina near Abel's and Bora's home turf since Saturday, I appear to have missed an update on the story of Starchild Abraham Cherrix. As you may recall, he is a 16 year old who fought for the right to pursue "alternative" therapy over evidence-based…
One of the gratifying things about having been blogging so long—nearly 13 years now!—is that you start to see stories that you wrote about a long time ago resurface, allowing you to see the resolution. For instance, I've not infrequently written about people who, mistakenly believing the…
I tell you, I take a night off from blogging, not even glancing at the blog or my e-mail, instead falling into a deep slumber at 10 PM after The Dog Whisperer on TV, thanks to a somewhat stressful week and a large meal plus a beer, and what happens? Abraham' Cherrix's uncle comments on the old blog…

I suppose someone could make a lot of hay about how some 16 year olds are more mature than some 18 year olds, yadda yadda. But, if it wouldn't fly to get you the right to vote, it seems like it shouldn't fly to get you the whole legal responsibility to make your own medical decisions.

Also, someone could try to leverage the fact that the 16 year olds and the parents in this case agree about the course of treatment to pursue for the 16 year old. However, if the state draws the magic line of adulthood at 18, such agreement doesn't necessarily matter. Imagine: "Junior (age 8) has decided he doesn't want to go to school any longer, and his parents agree (and are not schooling Junior by alternate means)." The government sees itself as having an interest in protecting the welfare of the child, especially in cases where the parents appear not to be doing so. Is "the welfare of the child" potentially open to debate? Of course. But policy makers try to pursue (and I think are right to pursue) something like Penn and Teller's "No Permanent Damage" rule, opting for treatment of children that won't, or is less likely to, lead to irreparable damage to the child. (Death is irreparable damage.)

Not everyone will be in agreement with the choices the state makes here, but it's hard to argue with the basic idea: get kids safely to adulthood where they'll be able to make their own choices.

While I agree wholeheartedly with what Dr. Free-Ride has written, the fact still remains that 'the magic line' isn't as precise as it used to be. In my jurisdiction (Canada) the age of consent is 14, at that age you may engage in sexual relationships, get married, get an abortion, accept/refuse medical treatment, and get a moped licence. At 16 you may be employed full time, quit school, join the Armed Forces, and get a full drivers permit. At 18 you reach the age of majority and can vote, sign contracts etc. However in some Providences you must be 21 to buy alcoholic beverages.

If this person wishes to select his own course of treatment, I believe he is exercising his rights. If he perishes as a result of having made a bad choice that is a risk chosen to take. He will not be the first, or the last 16yr old to die as a result of a poor decision.


I encounter the "medical conspiracy" folks everytime I give a public talk - one cannot reason with them anymore than one can talk the pope out of being Catholic. My goal is to educate the fence-sitters, the ones who are being preyed upon by those hawking fraudulent cures outside the US for tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket.

Brother Orac is far more adept than I at defending his position - hence, my post here speaks more about improved communication up front between docs and families where we can actually make a difference.