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Parents Charged for Keeping Child from Cancer Treatment

Aired September 3, 2003 - 19:20   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR: Welcome back. A court in Utah is struggling with the stunningly difficult questions, do parents have the right to deprive their children of chemotherapy for cancer?
Frank Buckley has the background of a case being played out this evening in a Salt Lake City courtroom as the family remains in Idaho under threat of kidnapping charges against the parents.


FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Twelve-year-old Parker Jensen certainly looks healthy and he says he feels healthy.

PARKER JENSEN, HAS CANCER: I feel great. I feel like normal.

BUCKLEY: But doctors and pathologists say the healthy-looking boy has been diagnosed with a rare and potentially fatal form of cancer known as Ewing Sarcoma.

MOLLIE MCDONALD, COURT-APPOINTED GUARDIAN-ATTORNEY: The only treatment that meets the standard of care in the medical community is chemotherapy.

BUCKLEY: But since the initial diagnosis at Utah's primary children's medical center that occurred in May, and then an operation in June to remove the tumor, Parker's parents have refused to commit their son to chemotherapy.

DAREN JENSEN, PARKER'S FATHER: We just want to know for sure that we're making the right decision as parents. That shouldn't be taken away from us.

BARBARA JENSEN, PARKER'S MOTHER: We are totally competent parents and that's what's put us in this situation to make decisions for our son.

BUCKLEY (on camera): But according to Parker's court-appointed guardian attorneys, second and third opinions were obtained here at the Children's Hospital in Los Angeles and at the University of Washington Medical Center. Both concurred with the diagnosis of Ewing Sarcoma.

MCDONALD: According to the doctors, this cancer acts like a time bomb in his body. It can metastasize at any time, and once it does, his chance of cure goes from 70 percent to 20 percent.

BUCKLEY: Arrest and custody warrants were issued against the Jensens, but they've been put on hold by Utah officials while they negotiate with the parents to get their son into treatment.

Frank Buckley, CNN, Los Angeles.


COOPER: And that negotiation is going on right now as we speak in Utah.

Now for more on the agonizing dilemma the courts are facing in the Parker Jensen case, let's call in one of our legal experts, San Francisco assistant district attorney Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom.

Kimberly, good to see you again. I suppose this boils down, in some respects, to state's rights versus a parent's rights to seek the treatment they see fit or not seek treatment, perhaps, in this case. Where does the law usually lie?

KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE-NEWSOM, ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY, SAN FRANCISCO: Basically in 99.9 percent of the cases it is going to fall squarely on the side of the parent.

In this particular case what you've seen here is kind of legal maneuvering restricting created, which I believe are well intentioned, on the part of the state and the medical officials involved in this case, to try and assist a boy that they believe is in grave and serious danger of dying from this disease.

Now, on the other hand the parents feel like they are not being listened to and that they are being thwarted in their efforts to try and get medical treatment and secondary diagnosis from doctors that they wish to seek and they're saying that their boy is just fine. So it's a complicated situation.

COOPER: Yes. And there seems to be disagreement on both sides about, you know, were second and third opinions actually sought. The disagreement, as we said, this is trying to be settled right now in a courtroom in Utah. We may get some answers before the end of this program.

But there are also kidnapping charges filed against the parents. Would that be something that would be negotiated away?

GUILFOYLE-NEWSOM: Yes. This is really unheard of. And the only reason there are kidnapping charges filed, which I think are -- basically were erroneously filed, I think it is an abuse of the discretion of the attorney general's office there to do this. I think there's other ways to work out some kind of compromise. They aren't making these objections on religious grounds. It's just that they believe the secondary effects of chemotherapy would be very harmful to their son, and they're not certain of this diagnosis.

COOPER: But let me just play devil's advocate with you here. I mean, there are those who say, "Look, the state has a legitimate right to look after the welfare of a minor if they feel the parents are not making the right choices. GUILFOYLE-NEWSOM: Absolutely. And there's ways to go about this without putting warrants out for the arrest of the parents in this particular case. It seems to me that they fell short on common sense and being able to sit down and bargain this whole thing out to work what's best in the child's interest in this particular case.

They could have worked with the guardian ad litem (ph). They didn't need to go to the next step and actually file criminal charges against the parents. Because guess what? The child is losing out now. This has backfired and now the child and his mother are on the lam. They're afraid to go see another doctor because they will be arrested. They have fled the state. And how is this benefiting the child?

COOPER: And the clock is ticking. All right. Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom, thanks very much.


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