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Family lands in court over son's cancer treatment

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Hauser family
Colleen, Daniel and Tony Hauser from Sleepy Eye, Minn. sit on the lawn of their dairy farm. The county says the family is medically neglecting Danny, who was diagnosed in January with Hodgkin's lymphoma. They are using alternative medicine to treat his illness.
MPR Photo/Sea Stachura

Danny Hauser is sitting on the lawn with his parents at their dairy farm near Sleepy Eye. The 13-year old is one of eight children. His cheeks are full and pink now, but his mom, Colleen, says in mid-January he didn't look this good. He coughed non-stop.

Colleen Hauser
Colleen Hauser says using alternative medicine to treat Danny is a religious decision, and one the county should respect.
MPR photo/Sea Stachura

"We thought pneumonia," Colleen Hauser said. "We took him up to our local doctor, and he did some X-rays and some lab work, and referred us to Children's Hospital in the Twin Cities at that point. I knew when I saw the blood work that something was wrong."

He was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.  Multiple hospitals recommended chemotherapy and radiation. The survival rate for Hodgkin's is 80 percent with chemotherapy, according to the Mayo Clinic. 

The family refused the treatment.

"I wanted to do alternative medicine. They were aware of that. I just did not like what the chemo did," Hauser said.

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Eventually, Danny received one round of chemotherapy. He didn't return for the second treatment. The hospital contacted authorities and that led Brown County attorney Jim Olson to go to court to file a child in need protection or service petition. 

The petition alleges that Colleen and Tony Hauser are medically neglecting Danny. It's in the state's interest to prevent a child from dying from a treatable cancer, according to Olson.

"You have on the one hand the parental rights to decide what's right for their child, keeping with their religious beliefs, their medical and nutritional beliefs. On the other hand you've got the state's interest saying, here's a child we've got a report from the treating doctor saying that this child is in danger because of the decisions the parents are making."

Olson wants the court to require that Danny resume chemotherapy immediately. He said the case is unusual.

"I've been the county attorney for 24 years and I've been an assistant since 1972 and frankly this is the first case I've come across," Olson said.

In 2007, the Minnesota Department of Human Services found that 94 children had been medically neglected. One child died as a result of the alleged neglect. Nationally, courts have based decisions on religious practices and a child's medical treatment on the specifics of the case. 

In this instance, the family has a religious and parental right to care for their son in a way that is consistent with their beliefs. The family practices a Native American faith called Nemenhah, Colleen Hauser said.  

"It's our religious belief. God has put everything on this earth to heal any kind of whatever-you-want-to-call-it. He has put every plant, herb ... we men just have to find it. And they are finding it. And it's working," she said.

She says regular X-rays and blood work show the tumor has shrunk. 

"His health today is unsurpassed to what it was. And  I don't know what's wrong with that," Hauser said.

His mother says if Danny weren't getting better, the family would consider chemotherapy. Danny Hauser says he would not. 

"I see it as a poison, it poisons your body," Danny Hauser said.

At the age of 13, Danny is not capable of making these life-and-death decisions, according to Brown County attorney Jim Olson. 

"If the parents wanted to treat Type II diabetes with diet and nutrition,  and they didn't want him on insulin and it wasn't life threatening, well, okay, that's their choice," Olson said.

Colleen Hauser says this is a family decision, and not one for the state. And the family is respecting Danny's wishes.   

"He told me this time and time again, 'Mom, I would rather die and be with God rather than go through the hell of chemo.' And that is how he feels. And I as a parent am not going to deprive him of his beliefs," Hauser said. 

Asked if his mother was right, that he would rather die that go through chemotherapy, Danny Hauser said, "Yes."

The judge expects to rule today on whether Danny can continue his alternative medicine or has to begin chemotherapy.