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Cancer victim Daniel Hauser deserves a chance to live

"Daniel Hauser is a child in need of protection."

The simplicity of that statement from a county judge belies the complexity of the issues at hand. Without treatment, cancer will likely take the life of a 13-year-old boy from a farm near Sleepy Eye, Minn. Daniel Hauser was diagnosed in January with Hodgkin's lymphoma, but his parents, citing religious reasons and other objections, stopped his chemotherapy and radiation after just one treatment. Instead, Anthony and Colleen Hauser turned to alternative care, including herbs and vitamins. Cancer specialists who testified at a court hearing in New Ulm said Daniel has an 80 to 90 percent chance of surviving if he undergoes chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Without such care, they said, he'll likely die within a few years.

And so many of us are left to ponder what we would do if one of our sons or daughters, at age 13, were seriously ill and facing treatment we opposed on religious or other grounds. Many, possibly most, would seek treatment, suspending deeply held convictions in one horrific circumstance to save a child. Some, like Anthony and Colleen Hauser, would make another choice.

Daniel's doctors notified child protection officials when the Hausers stopped Daniel's chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and County Attorney James Olson petitioned for court intervention. That led to Friday's thoughtful, 58-page decision by Brown County Judge John Rodenberg.

The county, Rodenberg ruled, had proved "a compelling state interest in the life and welfare of Daniel sufficient to override the fundamental constitutional rights of both the parents and Daniel to the free exercise of religion and the due process right of the parents to direct the upbringing of their child."

Rodenberg said Daniel must resume medical treatment, and he ordered a chest X-ray this week. Presuming it's not too late for effective treatment, the judge will issue a final order requiring chemotherapy.

The judge determined that Daniel "has only a rudimentary understanding of the risks and benefits of chemotherapy... He does not believe he is very ill currently. The fact is that he is very ill."

And that, more anything, sums up why Daniel needs the protection of the legal system. He's years away from being able to make an informed decision about his own complex medical needs. A 13-year-old Minnesota farm boy can be expected to know a little bit about fishing, baseball and riding a bike. He is not likely to be conversant on oncology and the merits of various treatment options, let alone the deep philosophical and moral implications of refusing standard medical care. His condition is heartbreaking. So is the fact that he has no idea how ill he is.

Minnesota law requires parents to provide their children with "medically necessary care,'" Rodenberg wrote. In Daniel's case, unfortunately, that means more than vitamins, herbs and the promises of natural healing.

Daniel Hauser deserves every chance to one day make his own decisions about his health. He also deserves the best possible care from his family, his doctors and a legal system that must decide the course most likely to help him grow up and make such choices for himself.

-- Minneapolis Star Tribune