A Florida couple may lose custody of their son after opting to treat the toddler’s cancer with cannabis instead of chemotherapy. Joshua McAdams and Taylor Bland-Ball of Hillsborough, Florida appeared in court in Tampa on Tuesday to oppose the state’s efforts to force the parents to take their 3-year-old son Noah McAdams to the hospital for treatment that doctors say is medically necessary to save the boy’s life.
Last month, Noah was diagnosed with cancer of the blood and bone marrow known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Noah received two chemotherapy treatments at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg before his parents decided to turn to medical cannabis, vitamins, and a strict diet instead.
“We just want one of the therapies less drastic than chemotherapy,” said Bland-Ball. “I want my son home and for him to be treated with a treatment that is not going to damage his little body so much.”
Parents Flee with Son
When the family failed to attend the next scheduled appointment at All Children’s Hospital, the Department of Families and Children filed a motion to have Noah treated according to the recommendations of oncologists and received a court order to take the boy into custody. On April 29, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department issued an endangered child alert for Noah, saying that his parents “refused to follow up with lifesaving medical care that the child needs.” The family was found in Kentucky the next day and returned by authorities to Florida, where temporary custody of Noah was granted to Bland-Ball’s parents.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Michael Minardi, Noah’s parents’ attorney, told Circuit Judge Caroline Tesche Arkin that he hadn’t been given enough time to prepare and asked for the proceeding to be postponed. The judge declined the request, and then cleared the courtroom of reporters at the request of Nancy Lawler, an attorney serving as Noah’s state-appointed legal advocate known as a guardian at litem. Lawler said that excluding the media would protect Noah’s privacy and be in his best interest, but Minardi told Arkin that Noah’s parents wanted reporters to remain in the courtroom.
“This is another attempt by (the state) and the guardian ad litem to thwart justice, to thwart this child’s ability to have his voice heard,” he said.
Arkin granted Lawler’s request, and the hearing was closed to the public. Afterward, Minardi said that an oncologist had testified about the side effects of chemotherapy and Arkin had recessed the hearing until Wednesday morning.
Seeking Treatment with Cannabis
Minardi said that Noah’s parents have begun the process to have the boy qualified as a medical marijuana patient and that arrangements are being made for doctors from out of the area to testify that cannabis causes “cell death of cancer” in the hope of “getting this court to realize that that is a far superior treatment to chemotherapy at this point in time.”
But Dr. Bijal D. Shah, the head of the Moffitt Cancer Center’s acute lymphoblastic leukemia program, told the Tampa Bay Times that the cure rate for the disease is 90 percent with a regimen of chemotherapy lasting 2.5 years. Those who stop treatment nearly always see the cancer return.
Bill Allen, an associate professor of bioethics, law, and medical professionalism at the University of Florida said that it’s possible Arkin could rule that Noah receive the treatment recommended by oncologists.
“There’s plenty of legal precedent, going back decades, where courts have found that the state has a right to intervene in those cases,” Allen said. “I’d be hard-pressed to think of any clear constitutional grounds for parents to simply substitute their alternative treatments for effective, evidence-based and medically-recognized methods that could save the child’s life.”