A judge formally ended the court-ordered guardianship of an Amish girl who resisted a hospital's attempts to force her to resume chemotherapy, bringing a close to the fight that raised questions about the rights of parents in making medical decisions for their children.
The judge's decision, announced Friday, came more than a year after Sarah Hershberger's guardian gave up her efforts to force the girl into chemotherapy for leukemia. Sarah and her parents went into hiding in the fall of 2013.
Sarah, who is now 12, no longer shows signs of being sick, said Kevin Dunn, a probate judge in Medina County. A visit to her home in August found that Sarah was "active and working daily on the family farm, she appeared healthy and appropriately developed," he wrote.
But Dunn cautioned her parents that she is not fully recovered and warned that they still have a duty to provide her care under Ohio law. "Her parents are not free to act entirely as they may choose," the judge said.
Maurice Thompson, the Hershbergers' attorney, said in a statement that "Sarah's good health bolsters the case against forced health care that we supposedly cannot live without."
The court fight began in the summer of 2013, when Sarah's parents decided to halt treatments because they feared chemotherapy was killing her.
Doctors at Akron Children's Hospital said Sarah's condition was treatable, but they argued she would die within a year if she stopped chemotherapy. The hospital went to court after the family decided to treat Sarah with natural medicines, such as herbs and vitamins.
Maria Schimer, an attorney who's also a registered nurse, was given the power to make medical decisions for Sarah after an appeals court ruled the beliefs and convictions of the girl's parents couldn't outweigh the rights of the state to protect the child.
But Schimer decided to drop the effort because it became impossible to monitor Sarah's health or make any medical decisions for her after she left home and went into hiding.
The family fled their farm in northeast Ohio's Medina County and sought treatment in Mexico before returning home after a few months.
Like most Amish, the Hershbergers shun many facets of modern life and are deeply religious. They have said they stopped chemotherapy not for religious reasons, but because it was making Sarah too sick.
Hospital officials said they were morally and legally obligated to make sure the girl received proper care.
State laws give parents a great deal of freedom when it comes to choosing medical treatment for their children, but not always when the decision could be a matter of life or death.