A 16-year-old Virginia boy who suffers from Hodgkin's disease has been told by a state judge he must report to a hospital this week and accept treatment deemed necessary by his doctors. The boy and his parents have chosen to pursue alternative treatment. It consists of a sugar-free, organic diet and herbal supplements supervised by a clinic in Mexico.
On July 21, juvenile court Judge Jesse E. Demps ruled that the boy's parents, Jay and Rose Cherrix of Chincoteague, were neglectful and that they must continue to share custody of their son, Starchild Abraham Cherrix, with the Accomack County Department of Social Services.
I have heard Cherrix interviewed on the radio and he sounds intelligent, articulate, reasonable and capable of making such a major decision. Cherrix says three months of chemotherapy left him nauseas and weak and he prefers not to repeat that type of treatment. That a court would deny Cherrix and his parents such a choice prompted the family attorney, John Stepanovich, to say: "I want to caution all parents of Virginia: Look out, because Social Services may be pounding on your door next when they disagree with the decision you've made about the health care of your child."
In an age when we continue to debate "a woman's right to choose" when it comes to a girl aborting her baby and we are told that it is the girl's body and no one else should make decisions affecting it, a boy has no such rights. A girl can be given birth control by the school nurse and even abortion information without her parents knowledge or consent, but a boy can be prohibited from making decisions that affect his life and body. At least the courts are consistent. They forbid parental involvement in either case. In some states, though, parents are held responsible for their kids' illegal and anti-social behavior. Why is it that parents supposedly have power to keep their kids from committing crimes, but can be denied power when it comes to their child's health and welfare?
If a young child (say 10, or younger) is unduly influenced by parents who are members of a religion that teaches that faith alone can heal, or prohibits blood transfusions, then the state has an interest in stepping in to protect the child until he, or she, is old enough to make an informed choice. But in this case, the informed one appears to be Cherrix, who says he has studied his options, experienced the treatment given by his doctors and doesn't want anymore of it. He prefers "alternative medicine." That should be his and his parents' right to determine, not a social worker and a court.
The attitude of the state and culture toward the value of human life is in constant flux. Like the Dow Jones Industrial Averages, it is up one day and down the next. Some want to use embryonic stem cells for research into all sorts of afflictions and diseases, though no clinical tests have proved they are effective and stem cells from placentas and other sources, which cause no harm to human life, are available. Life in the womb - indeed life emerging from the womb - may be destroyed at any time and for any reason. There is pressure at the other end of life to euthanize the elderly and handicapped when they become "burdensome" to family members or "too costly" to the state.
Attorney Stepanovich says Cherrix's parents will appeal the ruling this week. Absent any additional information that has not been made public, which might prove neglectfulness and bad parenting, Cherrix and his parents should decide what is best for them and not the state of Virginia.