April 17, 2024


A 16-year-old cancer patient in Virginia has reached an agreement with a court about how to treat his Hodgkin’s disease. Abraham Cherrix and his parents were so distressed by his discomfort after one round of chemotherapy that they opted for the Hoxsey method, a type of Mexican natural medicine which most doctors regard as outright quackery. A court decided that they were being negligent — despite Abraham’s protestations that he did not want chemotherapy — and ordered him to be treated. Now, after an appeal, a compromise has been reached: he can continue with the alternative treatment, so long as he sees a recognised cancer specialist. He will not have to have chemotherapy, but he might get radiation.

Although the case ended harmoniously, it raised thorny questions about patient autonomy, in much the same way that teenage abortions do. Does an intelligent teenager have the right to determine his own treatment and does the state or his parents have the right to determine what is best for him? Bioethicist Arthur Caplan observed that this was “absolutely the right resolution for this difficult case”. He felt that it showed that it proved the value of government intervention.