Strongly pro-life lawyers have successfully defended the right of a 16-year-old Virginian to pursue an alternative cancer treatment with the support of his parents, who had been adjudicated medically neglectful in a child maltreatment case before the Accomack Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.
Abraham Cherrix was diagnosed last year with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes. Beginning in August 2005, the youth underwent four rounds of chemotherapy over 12 weeks. The treatment left him feverish, nauseous and so weak that he sometimes could not walk and had to be carried by his father.
As of December 2005, Abraham’s cancer was found to be in remission. But less than 60 days later, the cancer was back. His oncologist recommended more chemotherapy, followed by radiation and a stem cell transplant. The Cherrixes, who are described as pro-life, were not definitively told the source of the stem cells for the proposed transplant. They would have rejected that option if the cells had been embryonic.
Given that his relapse represents an aggressive form of Hodgkin’s, the attorneys claimed that Abraham’s chance of survival with the suggested regimen would only have been 25 per cent and that the treatment itself could have been lethal.
Believing that the proposed chemotherapy regimen would kill him, Abraham researched alternatives. With the endorsement of his parents, he began treatment through a Mexican clinic, which administers the unproven Hoxley method of herbal supplements and an organic, sugar-free diet. Abraham holds to the biblical belief that his body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, which he should care for as best he knows how.
A neglect case was pursued against Jay and Rose Cherrix when they did not force their son into the treatment recommended by his oncologist. Most physicians consider the Hoxley approach to be quackery. Nevertheless, the defence in the case centred not on the efficacy of the treatment, but on the right of the family – rather than the state – to make medical decisions for a child. It had appeared that Abraham might be forced to undergo more chemotherapy as prescribed by his oncologist.
Unlike parents who deny their children treatment on religious grounds, the Cherrixes have not absolutely opposed chemotherapy and radiation. Indeed, they have been open to treatments in addition to the Hoxley method and have welcomed the medical opinions and offers of assistance they have received through widespread media coverage. The Cherrixes, who homeschool their five children and run a kayak expedition business on the island of Chincoteague, have incurred at least $100,000 (US) in medical and legal debt while advocating for their son.
John Stepanovich, the attorney for Abraham’s parents, specializes in constitutional law, including pro-life cases before the United States Supreme Court. Barry Taylor, the attorney for Abraham’s views in the neglect case, has repesented Operation Rescue in the past. Both men were troubled that, whereas their Commonwealth was denying the capacity of a 16-year-old to make a medical decision with his parents, abortion remains available to a young girl without parental consent.
“Look at the contradiction,” Stepanovich told The Interim. “At 14, a young girl can go to a judge and say, ‘I want an abortion, and I want to do this without my parents’ knowledge. And I want you … to grant me authority to do that.’ And that’s taking a life. (But) at 16, this young man can’t attempt to save his own life with his parents’ consent.”
Another attorney, Paul Watson, is the guardian ad litem in this case, appointed to represent Abraham’s best interest. Watson, who does not have specialized medical training or experience, declined to speak with The Interim or any other media about this case. He opposed the Cherrixes’ positions in court and recommended that Abraham be placed in foster care so that he could be forced to undergo treatment in a Norfolk children’s hospital.
The juvenile court finding was appealed to the Accomack Circuit Court, which scheduled a new trial for August 16. That trial was avoided when all parties agreed on a consent decree allowing Abrahan to continue with the Hoxsey method and forgo chemotherapy. He may also begin radiation treatment with a new expert oncologist who is open to alternative treatments. Abraham will remain under court supervision until he is cured or reaches age 18.
As he accepted the agreement, Judge Glen Tyler twice repeated its statement that the Cherrixes had not medically neglected their son.