Boy's disappearance shakes up Sleepy Eye

Brown County Sheriff Rich Hoffmann
Brown County Sheriff Rich Hoffmann said Wednesday in an evening press conference that investigators received and verified reliable information about the pair's location. They suspect the pair are headed to or in Mexico to seek alternative treatment for Daniel's cancer.
MPR Photo/Mark Steil

The disappearance of a 13-year-old Sleepy Eye boy fighting cancer and his mother has brought a messy debate over parents' right and Western and alternative medicine to Sleepy Eye, Minn.

Investigators now believe Daniel and Colleen Hauser could be in or near Mexico, seeking alternative treatments for Daniel's cancer.

Daniel and father
Daniel Hauser, 13, shown here with his father Anthony at their Sleepy Eye home earlier this month. Daniel and his mother Colleen have fled to avoid court-ordered treatment for Daniel's Hodgkin's lymphoma.
MPR Photo/Sea Stachura

Authorities say Daniel and his mother fled their family farm in southwest Minnesota on Monday, rather than have Daniel possibly undergo court-ordered chemotherapy.

The Hausers have said all along that they want to try alternative treatments for the cancer and avoid chemotherapy.

"Daniel Hauser and his mother are believed to be traveling together," Brown County Sheriff Rich Hoffman said. "Daniel Hauser and his mother are possibly going to, or are in Mexico, seeking treatment for Daniel's Hodgkin's lymphoma. The exact area where Daniel and his mother are believed to be heading is the area just south of San Diego, California."

In downtown Sleepy Eye, a city with fewer than 4,000 people, residents walking along Main Street Wednesday all had opinions on the case. Most said they sympathize with the Hausers over the difficult medical decisions they face.

"[Colleen Hauser] is thinking about her religion more than seeing the other side of it."

Sleepy Eye resident Cheryl Blick disagrees with Colleen Hauser's decision to disappear with her son. Blick said the family should follow a court order to have Daniel treated by a traditional medical doctor, even if that means chemotherapy.

"She's thinking about her religion more than seeing the other side of it," Blick said. "I think that the court was right to step in and [try to] help the boy. They said it was a 95 percent chance of survival with the chemo, and that right there would be it for me. Anything to save my child's life."

Colleen Hauser, Daniel's mother, has said she's refusing chemotherapy for her son because of her religious beliefs. She said the best treatments for Daniel are alternative medicines, not chemotherapy. Daniel also has insisted he wants no part of chemotherapy. Doctors say the boy's tumor is growing.

On the other side of the street, James Mathiowetz was sitting in a chair on the sidewalk, watching the world go by. He too said the family should accept the chemotherapy for Daniel rather than making a run for it.

But Mathiowetz said everyone should realize that there is no guarantee that chemo will save the boy's life. He said he knows people who have undergone the treatment and died of cancer anyway.

James Mathiowetz
James Mathiowetz of Sleepy Eye says there's a lot of interest in the community about the Hauser case.
MPR Photo/Mark Steil

Mathiowetz also said that, like the Hausers, he knows of people who have refused chemotherapy. Unlike Daniel, they were elderly people whom no court could touch and order to get treatment. Mathiowetz remembers a friend who died of cancer after refusing chemotherapy.

"She said, 'I lived as old as my mother and that's good enough.' She was 77," Mathiowetz said. "But it probably would have helped her, I think."

Mathiowetz said her friends did not try to change the woman's mind about chemotherapy. He said they figured she had lived through some hard times in life and she simply didn't want to go through anymore.

Unlike that elderly woman, Daniel Hauser cannot decide for himself. Under Minnesota law, government officials can step in if they think the parents are neglecting the medical needs of their child. The law supposes that children of Daniel's age are not yet capable of making life and death decisions.

Colleen Haag
Colleen Haag of Sleepy Eye says the Hauser family faces very difficult medical decisions.
MPR Photo/Mark Steil

Colleen Haag of Sleepy Eye said she can see both sides in the case, and is glad she's not facing the type of decision the Hausers must make.

"I think the law is right," Haag said. "I think someone that age needs either parental or adult input on that big of a decision. Just because it is such a major decision. I think he's a little bit young to decide for himself."

In the Hauser case, the issue of age takes on an added dimension. The mother, Colleen, is an avowed believer in alternative medicines and Daniel has also said he believes in them.

Some Sleepy Eye residents though think Daniel's views stem more from emotional attachment to his mother than a carefully thought-out analysis of the different treatment options. Cheryl Blick put it this way.

"He's a young boy and I don't think he knows, he hasn't been informed maybe," Blick said. "He's seeing his mother's side."

But while people on the streets of Sleepy Eye have their opinions on the subject, the most important voices in the debate are silent.

Daniel and Colleen Hauser are on the run, and no one is sure when they'll speak publicly again.

An arrest warrant is out for Colleen Hauser. A district court judge has ordered that Daniel be evaluated by a doctor and that appropriate treatment should begin, which likely means chemotherapy.

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