NEW ULM, Minn. Authorities across the United States were on the lookout today for a mother and her 13-year-old cancer-stricken son who fled after refusing the chemotherapy that doctors say could save the boy's life.
Colleen Hauser and her son, Daniel, who has Hodgkin's lymphoma, apparently left their southern Minnesota home some time after a doctor's appointment and court-ordered X-ray on Monday showed his tumour had grown.
Brown County District Judge John Rodenberg, who had ruled last week that Daniel's parents were medically neglecting him, issued an arrest warrant Tuesday for Colleen Hauser and ruled her in contempt of court. Judge Rodenberg also ordered that Daniel be placed in foster care and immediately evaluated by a cancer specialist for treatment.
The family belongs to a religious group that believes in “natural” healing methods. Daniel has testified he believed chemotherapy would kill him and told the judge that if anyone tried to force him to take it, “I'd fight it. I'd punch them and I'd kick them.”
The boy's father, Anthony Hauser, testified he didn't know where his wife and son were but had made no attempt to find them. He testified he last saw his son Monday morning, and he saw his wife only briefly that evening when she said she was leaving “for a time.”
As of this morning, the mother and son still had not been found, said Carl Rolloff, a sheriff's dispatcher.
Officials distributed the arrest warrant nationwide. Brown County Sheriff Rich Hoffman said Tuesday that investigators were following some leads locally, but declined to elaborate.
“It's absolutely crazy. It's very disappointing,” James Olson, the attorney representing Brown County Family Services. “We're trying to do what's right for this young man.”
A message left at the Hauser home in Sleepy Eye early today wasn't immediately returned. But in an interview in today's editions of the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, Anthony Hauser said he knew places where his wife might have gone though he did not know where she was.
He said he and his wife had a plan for Tuesday's hearing and he was a “bit disappointed” she didn't follow it. “We were going to present a treatment plan to the court. If they didn't go with it, we would appeal it,” he told the newspaper.
“I know many people around here who have had cancer, they did the chemo, it would come back,” Mr. Hauser told the newspaper. “They did the chemo again and again and they are all in the grave. Chemo isn't foolproof.”
Daniel's Hodgkin's lymphoma is considered highly curable with chemotherapy and radiation, but the boy quit chemo after a single treatment.
The judge has said Daniel, who has a learning disability and cannot read, did not understand the risks and benefits of chemotherapy and didn't believe he was ill.
The Hausers are Roman Catholic and also believe in the “do no harm” philosophy of the Nemenhah Band, a Missouri-based religious group that believes in natural healing methods advocated by some American Indians. Colleen Hauser testified earlier that she had been treating his cancer with herbal supplements, vitamins, ionized water and other natural alternatives.
The founder of Nemenhah, Philip Cloudpiler Landis, said it was a bad idea for Colleen Hauser to flee with her son.
“She should have gone to court,” Mr. Landis said. “It's how we work these things out. You don't solve anything by disregarding the order of the judge.”
Anthony Hauser now agrees that Daniel needs to be taken back to a doctor for re-evaluation for the best treatment, said Calvin Johnson, an attorney for the parents.
The family's doctor, James Joyce, testified by telephone that he examined Daniel on Monday, and that an X-ray showed his tumour had grown to the size it was when he was first diagnosed.
“He had basically gotten back all the trouble he had in January,” the doctor said.
Dr. Joyce testified that he offered to make appointments for Daniel with oncologists, but the Hausers declined. He also said he tried to give Daniel more information about lymphoma but the boy, his mother and lawyer Susan Daya left in a rush.
“Under Susan Daya's urging, they indicated they had other places to go,” Dr. Joyce said.
Ms. Daya did not immediately respond to a call Tuesday. The court also tried to reach her during the hearing, but got no answer.
Daniel's lymphoma was diagnosed in January, and six rounds of chemotherapy were recommended.
Minnesota statutes require parents to provide necessary medical care for a child, Judge Rodenberg wrote. The statutes say alternative and complementary health care methods aren't enough.