ARLINGTON, Va. -- A 16-year-old Virginia boy who suffers from Hodgkin's disease has been told by a state judge he must report to a hospital this week and accept treatment deemed necessary by his doctors. The boy and his parents have chosen to pursue alternative treatment. It consists of a sugar-free, organic diet and herbal supplements supervised by a clinic in Mexico.
On Friday, Juvenile Court Judge Jesse E. Demps ruled that the boy's parents, Jay and Rose Cherrix of Chincoteague, were neglectful and that they must continue to share custody of their son, Starchild Abraham Cherrix, with the Accomack County Department of Social Services.
I have heard Starchild Cherrix interviewed on the radio, and he sounds intelligent, articulate, reasonable and capable of making such a major decision. The teen says three months of chemotherapy left him nauseated and weak, and he prefers not to repeat that type of treatment. That a court would deny him and his parents such a choice prompted the family attorney, John Stepanovich, to say: "I want to caution all parents of Virginia: Look out, because Social Services may be pounding on your door next when they disagree with the decision you've made about the health care of your child."
In an age when we continue to debate "a woman's right to choose" when it comes to a girl aborting her baby, and we are told that it is the girl's body and no one else should make decisions affecting it, a boy has no such rights. A girl can be given birth control by the school nurse and even abortion information without her parents' knowledge or consent - but a boy can be prohibited from making decisions that affect his life and body.
At least the courts are consistent. They forbid parental involvement in either case. In some states, though, parents are held responsible for their kids' illegal and antisocial behavior. Why is it that parents supposedly have power to keep their kids from committing crimes but can be denied power when it comes to their child's health and welfare?
If a young child (say 10 or younger) is unduly influenced by parents who are members of a religion that teaches that faith alone can heal, or prohibits blood transfusions, then the state has an interest in stepping in to protect the child until he or she is old enough to make an informed choice. But in this case, the informed one appears to be Starchild Cherrix, who says he has studied his options, experienced the treatment given by his doctors and doesn't want any more of it. He prefers "alternative medicine." That should be his and his parents' right to determine, not the right of a social worker and a court.
The attitude of the state and culture toward the value of human life is in constant flux. Like the Dow Jones Industrial Average, it is up one day and down the next. Some want to use embryonic stem cells for research into all sorts of afflictions and diseases, though no clinical tests have proved they are effective, and stem cells from placentas and other sources, which cause no harm to human life, are available. Life in the womb - indeed life emerging from the womb - may be destroyed at any time and for any reason. There is pressure at the other end of life to euthanize the elderly and handicapped when they become "burdensome" to family members or "too costly" to the state.
Mr. Stepanovich says Starchild Cherrix's parents will appeal the ruling this week. Absent any additional information that has not been made public, which might prove neglectfulness and bad parenting, the young man and his parents - not the state of Virginia - should decide what is best for them.
Cal Thomas' syndicated column appears Wednesdays in The Sun. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.