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Ohio Court Debates Treatment of Young Cancer Patient

January 14, 1986

CINCINNATI (AP) _ A 7-year-old bone cancer patient whose parents object to medical treatment for him will die without chemotherapy, a hospital lawyer told a state appeals court on Monday.

Doctors at Children’s Hospital Medical Center say the boy, David Willmann of suburban Montgomery, recommend six weeks of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor in his left arm, after which they will evaluate whether to proceed with surgery that could involve amputating the arm and part of his shoulder.

The Willmanns, members of the Christian Church, say Jesus Christ is already healing their son and that the swelling of David’s left arm is a symptom that will go away.

″He has a rare tumor,″ Frank Woodside, lawyer for the Cincinnati hospital, told the three-judge Ohio 1st District Court of Appeals Monday. ″The only thing we know for sure is, if we do nothing, the child’s condition will get worse. ... It is their position that faith has already cured the little fellow, contrary to all the medical evidence presented.

″Without any chemotherapy, this is a death sentence for this little boy,″ Woodside quoted a hospital physician as saying.

Douglas and Lori Willmann say they oppose the chemotherapy and surgery because of their religious beliefs, their fear that the surgery could disfigure the boy and because they judge the treatment’s risks greater than its benefits. The court promised to issue a decision promptly, and the Willmann’s lawyer said he was told a ruling would come Tuesday.

On Saturday, Judge John O’Connor of the Hamilton County Juvenile Court gave the hospital permission to proceed with chemotherapy, and surgery if needed.

The Willmanns’ lawyer, state Sen. Richard Finan, asked the appeals court to overturn O’Connor’s order, pending a final ruling by the court on the mertis of the case.

Finan argued that the chemotherapy and surgery is not in the boy’s best interests. He said the boy, who is fond of soccer, underwent five weeks of chemotherapy through early December and that it caused him problems in walking and caused him to lose hair.

Barbara Kuller, a Cincinnati lawyer appointed by O’Connor as the boy’s legal guardian, told the appeals court she supports the hospital’s decision to treat David.

″Much has been made of parents’ rights here. I urge the court to consider David’s rights,″ Ms. Kuller said.

Woodside, who is also a physician, told the appeals court that the boy’s tumor had grown from 23 to 32 centimeters since the first round of chemotherapy was completed in early December. The treatment had shrunk the tumor enough so that doctors were ready to operate to remove it, but the Willmanns had left town with the boy on a vacation and the surgery was never done, Woodside said.

Neither the Willmanns nor their son attended Monday’s hearing.

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