My Son Doesn’t Need Chemo — Should a Mother be Able to Choose an Unproven Alternative Therapy?

A Long Island mother is going to court to try to block her son's mandated chemotherapy.

In the New York town of Mineola, a legal case making its way through the courts is bringing up the excruciating question of parental control when an underage child is sick: A 13-year-old boy battling a rare type of Leukemia has been the subject of a fight between his mother and the courts over whether or not he should be required to receive a conventional treatment of chemotherapy.

Candace Gunderson says that both she and her son, Nicholas, do not want to the course of treatment to continue given that he has been declared to be in remission (Nicholas said that staying in the hospital is adding to his stress and that he, “can’t take it anymore,”) but his doctors say he needs chemotherapy to keep him on the path towards a full recovery, and kill whatever cancer cells could still be in his body. The Suffolk County Family Court has overruled Nicholas and Candace, and while he was allowed to be released from the hospital, the court mandated that the young teen still receive the chemotherapy.

Candace has accused Child Protective Services of “medically kidnapping” Nicholas after she made her wishes clear to take a “non-toxic” route. And while the specifics of what these non-toxic options would entail are not entirely clear, it begs an important question: How much control can—and should—legal authorities have in a minor’s care when fighting cancer?


It’s not the first time that this issue has come up around the country. There has long-since been a debate around the benefits, or lack thereof, of strictly adhering to a medical treatment regiment versus employing complementary or alternative medicines when it comes to fighting cancer as effectively as possible. While as many as 40% of Americans believe that forgoing traditional methods in favor of alternative treatments is a viable option, the medical community doesn’t always agree.

One study led by Yale oncologist Dr. James Yu found that patients who decided to exclusively pursue untraditional treatment methods were as much as two times more likely to die from their illness, as well as being far less likely to accept conventional treatments like radiation, chemotherapy and hormone therapy.

According to Newsday, a newspaper on New York’s Long Island, Candace Gunderson says that, because the disease is in remission, she wants to, “Let him have a chance at life.” And while the doctors involved cannot comment on the case citing privacy concerns, the hospital has said that it stands by its doctors’ recommendation.

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