The Nanny State vs. The Family

A case currently making its way through the Virginia Court system illustrates fairly starkly the extent to which the nanny state can intrude on even the most private decisions.

RICHMOND, Va. — A teen cancer patient fighting to use alternative medical treatment for his illness said he told a juvenile court judge in a two-day, closed-door hearing what it’s like to go through chemotherapy and that he didn’t want to relive it.

“I told him my story … so he could understand where I was coming from and live through me,” 16-year-old Starchild Abraham Cherrix said.


The teen, who goes by Abraham, has Hodgkin’s disease, a cancer of the lymph nodes.

Three months of chemotherapy last year made him extremely weak. So when he learned in February that his cancer was active again, he turned _ against doctors’ advice _ to a sugar-free organic diet, herbs and visits to a clinic in Mexico.

A social worker asked a judge to require the teen to continue conventional treatment.

And, at least initially, the judge agreed with the state and issued a Temporary Restraining Order calling Abraham’s parents neglectful for agreeing with their son’s decision and gave joint custody of the child to the Department of Social Services. That’s right, the Commonwealth of Virginia (well, actually Accomack County) is now officially the parent of a 16 year old boy.

Though it will no doubt be stated differently by the Court, Abraham’s father put the question before the Judge succinctly:

“What it boils down to is does the American family have the right to decide on the health of their child,” Jay Cherrix said, “or is the government allowed to come in and determine that themselves and threaten one way or the other to split our family up?”

The answer to that question will have implications far beyond Virginia.

It seems pretty clear to me, though, that the state has little, if any, right to interfere in what is essentially a private decision for the Cherrix family, and specifically for Abraham. Who is the state social worker to say that his decision is wrong ? As someone who has witnessed first-hand what happens to someone on chemotherapy, its pretty clear that modern cancer therapy is often based on the hope that the chemicals being pumped into the patient will kill the cancer cells before killing the patient. The side effects are visible, painful, and often permanent. Abraham has been through one round of chemotherapy already and, apparently it didn’t work. If he chooses not to subject himself to that again, and his parents support that, that decision should be respected.

Yes, Abraham is 16 and technically a minor, but if its clear that his decision is really his, then what right does the government have to stick a needle in his arm and pump toxic chemicals into his body ? None that I can see.

There’s a similar battle taking place on the other side of the United States, in Seattle, where a mother is facing kidnapping charges for taking her own 9 month old child out of the hospital rather than subject it to an operation.

SEATTLE — To her defenders, Tina Carlsen was a concerned mother exploring natural alternatives to surgery for her 9-month-old infant. To the state, she was a kidnapper who prompted an Amber Alert and an order restricting contact with her toddler until after her trial.

Carlsen was charged with second-degree domestic-violence kidnapping last month after she slipped baby Riley out of a hospital in a diaper bag to avoid surgery ordered by his doctors and a judge. The case has put her at the center of a battle testing the rights of parents and the roles of doctors and judges in disputes over children’s medical treatment.

State judges can override a parent’s wishes concerning such treatment, but the child’s life typically must be in imminent danger.

From the reports, it doesn’t appear that imminent danger exists in either case.

We may not always agree with the decisions that parents make when they raise their children, but that doesn’t justify the state intruding into the family to override those decisions for what it perceives to be the child’s own good.

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  • William Alexander

    I agree with your concept that it should be between the boy and his parents. However, the flavor of your editorial places chemo in a biased negative light. If this boy chooses the alternative described he will die, period. If he takes the appropriate chemo he will likely have no further lymphoid cancer for 2-3 decades. You don’t have the background to understand that this is not the choice between two equal alternatives,however it is still not the state’s choice. It is the family’s choice in my opinion.

  • Skeptico

    William Alexander is right on the money about the choices this kid is facing. For a more detailed explanation you should read Respectful Insolence today:

  • Doug Mataconis


    I know that chemotherapy can be beneficial and, often is. My mother suffered from Ovarian Cancer and, at least in the beginning, chemotherapy worked and she survived more than five years. I saw firsthand, however, the effect that the chemicals had on her body so I think I have some understanding of what Abraham is talking about.

    At the same time, its probably true that he will die without the chemotherapy but, of course, there’s no guarantee that he will survive if he undergoes another round of chemo either.

    Finally, make no mistake…..I am not endorsing the therapy that he and his family are choosing. I am endorsing their right to make that choice free of state interference.

    You and I may not agree with the medical decisions he and his family are making, but they have, I submit, every right to make them.

    Let me ask this question, if Abraham were 19 and making this decision, what would your position be ? Should the state be able to force an adult citizen to undergo medical procedures when they don’t want to ? If so, on what authority ?

  • Siobhan

    I agree with William fully that the boy has the right to choose his treatment, especially when chemotherapy has not only failed, but brought him to such a weakened state. There are many documented instances of cancers going into remission without conventional treatment and I would suspect the chances of that happening are greatly increased when one has a healthy diet and lifestyle, so I wish him the best in that venture.

    My sister had Hodkins and both my mother and grandmother had colon cancer (We’re a healthy family, I swear! Yet I suspect I’ll have my turn). My grandmother recently passed because her cancer returned and at her old age, she know the chemotherapy would do more damage then it was worth. Some people are just too weak to withstand it. You are, like William stated, adding poison in the hope that it kills the cancer before it kills the patient. Watching all three go through chemotherapy I saw some very weak moments, but none requiring them to be carried. Some bodies just don’t like having toxins pumped into them… imagine that.

    Cases like this bring up a lot of questions about the rights of parents against the opinions of the medical community. If doctors and non-medically trained social workers are able force treatments on an unwilling patient, then the door will open for further invasion of a patients rights. In this case I guess I also have to wonder about what would happen if the court does order the treatment and the treatment kills him…

  • IndianCowboy

    argh, I’m not going to get on my ‘we at least need to study herbals’ soapbox right now, but I will say that while Hoxsey’s is crap, there are some pretty effective thigns out there. i’ve seen them work firsthand.

    the paternalism of the medical and public health community continues to shock and appall me. Probably a bad thing since I’ll be a part of it for the rest of my life.

  • Dorothy Thompson

    I know the Cherrix family personally as I live fifteen minutes from their house and have watched Abraham grow up. I am utterly in shock that the court system would drag this family in and make them go through this. Abraham should be home getting better instead of putting himself through this stress. I talked to his mom this morning and she said she’s not heard the verdict yet. She said Abraham was doing well and hanging in there.

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  • my 2 cents

    Money is the root of all evil. It is all about the money. I bet the social worker might get a reward from somewhere?