On Tuesday, Aug. 27, the Ninth District Court of Appeals reversed the Medina County probate court’s ruling regarding the appointment of Maria Schimer as limited guardian of a 10-year-old girl with cancer.
The appeals court ruled that the legal issue is not whether the parents are unfit or unsuitable but whether the “minor’s interests will be promoted by the appointment of the guardian.”
The case has generated extensive media coverage this past week and these news stories have generated lots of debate.
To answer questions and address some inaccuracies in the media coverage, here are answers to frequently asked questions.
What is 3 T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma? Is it curable?
3 T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma is a type of cancer that starts in cells called lymphocytes, which are part of the body’s immune system. With prompt and aggressive chemotherapy treatment, long-term survival rates for stage 3 or 4 childhood lymphoblastic lymphoma are higher than 80%. This disease is almost always fatal without treatment.
Akron Children’s follows the treatment protocols recommended by Children’s Oncology Group, a collaborative research group that allows children’s hospitals worldwide to share data and outcomes. This ensures the treatment for all childhood cancers is the same and most up to date across all COG members.
Chemotherapy is difficult and many people die even after going through that. Isn’t that correct?
There are no guarantees, but compliance with evidence-based cancer treatment protocols gives children the best chance of survival. Without treatment, cancer is almost always fatal.
While we empathize with how difficult it is for families who are dealing with the various side effects of cancer treatment, research has shown that the majority of children will be cured and be able to live into adulthood with evidence-based treatment. We work with families to make the process as comfortable as possible.
Why did the hospital take this action?
Akron Children’s mission is to provide care based on evidence-based treatment protocols and to advocate for the best interests of the children we serve. Occasionally, disagreements arise over what is in the best interests of a child. In rare cases involving life or death, we turn to the courts to make these difficult decisions.
In Ohio, a parent’s refusal to provide proper or necessary medical care or treatment, or other care necessary for the child’s health or well being, constitutes neglect. A physician who has a reasonable cause to suspect neglect is required by law to report that suspicion to the public children’s service agency.
Does the hospital respect the wishes of parents?
Akron Children’s Hospital values family-centered care and considers parents as partners in their children’s medical decisions. Parents have always played a key role in every facet of the hospital. They sit on committees and ensure that everything from hospital policies and procedures to the design of patient care areas are considered from the perspective of the patient family.
We each have a responsibility to do what’s in the best interests for children. When we disagree with parents on life-or-death decisions, we are morally and legally obligated to seek a third party decision.
Research has shown that chemotherapy presents children with lymphoblastic lymphoma with their best, and essentially only, hope of survival. That’s why Akron Children’s Hospital felt morally obligated to turn to the judiciary system to appoint a third-party guardian to make a medical decision regarding treatment.
Does Akron Children’s respect religious beliefs of their patient families?
Akron Children’s respects the religious and cultural differences of all of our patient families and has a long history of serving the Amish community. In our experience, the Amish are very responsive to seeking treatment for their children for a variety of medical issues. Our doctors, nurses and social workers routinely offer medical clinics in their communities for added convenience.
Is the hospital trying to take custody of this patient?
No, the hospital is not seeking legal or physical custody of the child. The case is an application to appoint a limited guardian to make this one medical decision. The applicant is an attorney and registered nurse who is not employed by Akron Children’s.
Where does the case go from here?
Akron Children’s is hopeful the Medina County Probate Court will decide it is in the best interests of this child to award limited guardianship and that the limited guardian will agree that continuing chemotherapy is in her best interests. It was never Akron Children’s opinion that the child’s parents are unfit. We do, however, disagree with the parents on this one issue and believe it is an issue of life or death for their child.
The hospital will respect the opinion of the court, however it rules. We want only the best for the child and her family.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, this information was obtained from the appellate court records.