On Health Freedom and Parental Choice - Who Really Owns Your Child?
By Sherri Tenpenny, DO

The case of Abraham Cherrix should send a deep chill through the heart of every parent.

After he had endured three months of ineffective treatments in 2005 for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Abraham rejected his doctor’s recommendation to go through a second round of chemotherapy. He chose instead to seek out more natural, nontoxic methods using alternative medicine.

After doing his research, he traveled with his father to Bio-Medical Center in Tijuana, Mexico. His treatments included liquid herbal supplements and a sugar-free, organic diet consisting mostly of fresh fruits and vegetables. When they returned home, they spoke to Abraham’s oncologist, Dr. Rebecca Byrd, to keep her involved in his care. Wanting no part of their choices, she promptly declared their decision irrational, labeled it “medical neglect” and called the Accomack County Department of Social Services.

Within days, the county Social Services personnel had been awarded partial custody of Abraham and, at 5:20pm on Friday, July 21, 2006, Judge Jesse E. Demps ruled that Abraham’s parents were neglectful. They were ordered to take their child to the hospital on the following Tuesday morning and sign papers authorizing doctors to provide the treatment that they – as medical professionals – deem necessary. If they refused to do so, they could lose custody complete custody of their child, and quite possibly, put their other four children at risk as well.

This case caught the attention of the national media because it strikes at the heart of every parent who should be asking the following questions: “Who really has control over my child?” “When is a child mature enough to participate in his own healthcare decisions?” “How did we get to the place where doctors, judges and social workers have more rights than parents over the healthcare decisions of my child?”

Becoming an adult
In most cases, the age when a person acquires all the rights and responsibilities of being an adult is 18 years old. However, there are circumstances in which a child can be considered a legal adult before the assigned age of majority. For example, Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts, New York and Utah allow marriage at age 16 with parental consent. You can legally get married in Georgia, Mississippi, Michigan, and North Carolina with parental consent if you are 15 years of age. Texas permits a 14 year old to get married with parental consent, and New Hampshire will even allow 13 year old females to marry with parental consent and court permission.(1)

In six states (Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington) and Washington DC, a 16 year old has the right to get an abortion without consent or notification of the parent. Thirty-four other states have mechanisms in place to bypass the parental consent or notice requirement. (2)

A 16-year-old can hold a full time job, travel outside the country, drive a car and have full responsibility for someone’s children while baby sitting. A 16-year-old can even be tried as an adult for murder.

But if you are 16, you have no right to say what type of treatment is forced upon you by the medical system, even if your parents support your right to refuse. Cherrix explained to the press, "This is my body that I'm supposed to take care of. I should have the right to tell someone what I want to do with this body. I studied. I did research. I came to this conclusion that the chemotherapy was not the route I wanted to take." (3) His maturity carried no weight in the court of law and held no authority with the medical judge, his doctor.

Parental Rights and the Foundation for Medical Neglect
When it comes to making decisions about their children, parents really have few rights. This concept stems from antiquity and was first put forth by Plato regarding a state-provided public education. He advocated removing children from their parents’ care and raising them as wards of the State. It is interesting that in 1918, at the congress of the Communist Party’s education workers in Russia it was asserted, "We must remove the children from the crude influence of their families.”(4)

The enforcement mechanism for “educational neglect” (5)—such as truancy and in some cases, homeschooling(6)--belongs to teachers and social workers. In medical decisions, physicians are charged with forcing medical “standard of care” treatments on children of unwilling parents. Doctors not only have the right to step in, they are mandated by state law to report medical abuse and neglect to Children’s Services. The decision is usually made when a physician feels the action—or inaction—of a parent places the child in danger of death or disability. A common occurrence is when a parent is a Jehovah’s Witness who refuses a blood transfusion for their child on religious grounds.

Wide support and extensive court precedence exists backing a doctor’s decision to call Children’s Services. The rationale for this authority is clearly stated in a 1996 paper that states, "Whether (the guardians) are sincere, sane, and in every other capacity model parents, their insistence upon treatment that is scientifically inferior to conventionally accepted treatment is abusive, even if their intent is not." (7)

Because the State agrees with the premise that the “doctor knows best,” parents are deemed “unfit” when they refuse a suggested conventional medical treatment. Social workers have the power to seize the child once notified by a physician that they have an obstreperous patient on their hands. Police agencies have been known to enforce the decision at gunpoint.

The current system was set up to protect obviously abused and neglected children. It would provide adequate protection if medical professionals were amenable to common sense. In the case of Abraham Cherrix, the parents respected and liked their conventional oncologist enough to inform her of their decision, wanting to include her in Abraham’s ongoing care. The outcome attests to the current mess our medical system is in. Unfortunately, common sense isn’t very common these days and disagreeing with your doctor can lead to removal of your child from your home.

Modern medicine operates under the pretense that it is “science based.” It claims that its therapies have been developed through the research Gold Standard: the double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized, cross-over study. However, the majority of medical therapies have never been subjected to this type of analysis. Evidence-based medicine has only been underway since 1990. The list of standard medical therapies that have proven to be worthless after they were scrutinized is long. Tens of thousands of people have suffered through the use of “usual and customary” therapies before they were proven to be useless.(8) The implication that the alternative practices sought by the Cherrix family are “unproven and dangerous” may very well be said about the conventional treatments being forced on him by his oncologists.

The Cherrix case is one in a series of recent medical travesties where judges, doctors and the State have forced medical treatments on children against the concerns of their parents. In January, 2005, 13-year-old Katie Wernecke was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. When Katie's parents, Michelle and Edward Wernecke, refused radiation treatments for their daughter, Texas Children Services intervened. Katie was placed in foster care for four months and her mother was arrested on charges of interfering with child custody.(9)

Last year, (July, 2006), the parents of a 9-month old boy, Riley Rogers, were advised that the child needed emergency surgery for a kidney problem. The mother disagreed and smuggled her son out of the hospital. Several days later, he was found and sent back to the hospital; the mother was charged with second-degree kidnapping and sent to jail. As it turned out, the surgery was not an “emergency” after all.(10)

Americans are dying on the on the other side of the world in a “fight for freedom.” And yet, the freedom to choose vitamins, organic food and herbs over toxic, potentially deadly treatments is considered a crime. The total number of deaths caused by conventional medicine is more than 780,000 per year, making the medical system the leading cause of death and injury in the U.S.(11) Whose freedoms should we be fighting for?

These stories should enrage every parent. Who really “owns” your child? Who owns your body? Americans need to declare their freedom from the grip of conventional medicine and its authoritarian tactics. As clearly stated by U.S. Representative Ron Paul, a medical doctor, "When we give government the power to make medical decisions for us, we, in essence, accept that the state owns our bodies." Have we come to that point?

Justice in the Aftermath
This horrific example of bureaucratic overreach gave birth to Abraham's Law, a bill signed into Virginia law in February, 2007 by a vote of 87-9 in the House. The law allows parents or legal caregivers to refuse medical treatment for a child if they and the child are in agreement, if the child is at least 14 years old and considered mature, if they've considered other options, and if they think their decision is in the child's best interest.(12) Virginia lawmakers did a good thing by passing this legislation; however, it is outrageous that the law had to be drafted in the first place. With its passage, however, the work has just begun. The next step is to ensure that this right is assured in every state through Federal legislation.

There are many politically active organizations working diligently to preserve the rights of American citizens. One such organization, the American Association for Health Freedom (AAHF), played a role in the passage of Abraham's Law. AAHF, the politically active voice for consumers at the federal level, fights to protect a patient’s rights to choose the best therapy for his family. In addition, AAHF is working to pass State laws that protect the healthcare practitioner’s ability to provide alternative medical treatments without fear of retribution by State medical boards. Please contact AAHF through the Health Freedom website to get involved.


(1)Wikipedia encyclopedia
(2)Laws Requiring Parental Consent or Notification for Minors' Abortions, from Planned Parenthood website
(3) “Virginia teen fights for right to pick Hodgkin's treatment.” Martha T. Moore, USA TODAY. July 11, 2006.
(4) “The Free Market and Education,” by Ken Schoolland. The Future of Freedom Foundation. January, 1996.
(5) King County Sexual Assault Resource Center.
(6) A Brief Review of Educational Neglect & Compulsory Schooling: A Status Report." Brian D. Ray, Ph.D. National Home Education Research Institute. Jan. 28, 2006.
(7) Rosen P. Religious freedom and forced transfusion of Jehovah's Witness children. J Emer Med. 1996.
(8) “Off-Label Use of Prescription Drugs should be Regulated by the FDA.” Harvard Law Review.

Dr. Sherri J. Tenpenny is respected as one of the country’s most knowledgeable and outspoken physicians regarding the negative impacts of vaccines on health. Through her education company, NMA Media Press, she spreads her vision of retaining freedom of choice in healthcare, including the freedom to refuse vaccination. Her three hour DVD, Vaccines: The Risk, The Benefits and The Choices , her new book FOWL! Bird flu: It’s Not What You Think, and many other books, tapes and materials are available at

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