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A boy at the center of a 2003 dispute over whether he should be required to undergo chemotherapy says he feels good and spends as much time as possible snowboarding.
"I love the snow," Parker Jensen, a 15-year-old ninth-grader, says. "I go pretty much every weekend."
For almost two hours Tuesday at the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City, his focus was on a more serious subject - whether a lawsuit filed by his parents should be allowed to go forward. Daren and Barbara Jensen, who were threatened with losing custody of Parker, say their constitutional right to decide what is best for their son was violated by physicians, the Utah Department of Children and Family Services and an assistant attorney general.
But lawyers for the defendants deny any constitutional violations occurred and said everyone was trying to ensure that the then-12-year-old Parker, who had been diagnosed with cancer, got treatment that would save his life. At a hearing Tuesday, they told U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell he should dismiss the Jensens' suit.
"These people acted on information provided by doctors," Peter Rognlie, an assistant Utah attorney general, said of the state defendants, pointing out that physicians involved in Parker's case uniformly recommended chemotherapy.
And Andrew Morse, who represents medical personnel who examined Parker and urged that he undergo chemotherapy, said pathologists were 95 percent sure that the boy had Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that occurs mainly in children. It would be reckless to say Parker should not be treated unless there were a 100 percent assurance, he said.
"These doctors are charged with doing what's in the child's best interests," which is survival, Morse said.
Karra Porter, a lawyer representing the Jensens, countered that the family initially was ready for chemotherapy but doctors refused to run a genetic test to confirm Parker had Ewing's. In addition, the defendants threw up barriers every time the family tried to get another doctor to review the case, she said, and told half-truths to a judge considering whether the Jensens should lose custody of their son.
Cassell - noting that the state does not have to show that it was right, but only that its actions were reasonable - indicated he is tentatively leaning toward dismissing many of the claims against the physicians but allowing some of the allegations against the state to go to trial. He took the case under consideration and said he would issue a ruling later.
The battle began when a small tumor removed from under Parker's tongue was diagnosed as Ewing's sarcoma by Primary Children's Medical Center. The Jensens said they declined chemotherapy for their lively and happy son only after physicians refused to perform more definitive genetic testing.
Hospital officials made a medical neglect claim to DCFS and in August 2003, Judge Robert Yeates of 3rd District Juvenile Court ordered the state to take custody. But Yeates eventually dismissed the case, citing Parker's resistance and criticizing his parents.
Last July, the Jensens filed their suit, which asks for an unspecified amount in damages for their claims, including emotional distress, and for attorney fees. They allege that a DCFS caseworker never spoke with them and failed to thoroughly investigate the case.
In addition, their suit claims that the defendants left out information that would support the family's stand.
When asked how his Parker is doing, Daren Jensen pointed to the healthy-looking boy and said, "See for yourself." He added, "This is a very important case for the Jensens as well as many other people."
The Parker Jensen case
Cancer appears: A small tumor removed from under Parker Jensen's tongue was diagnosed as Ewing's sarcoma by Primary Children's Medical Center in May 2003. The Jensens said they declined chemotherapy after physicians refused to perform definitive genetic testing; hospital officials accused them of medical neglect.
A judge steps in: Third District Juvenile Judge Robert Yeates ordered the state to take custody in August 2003. After briefly disappearing with their son, the parents agreed to follow the advice of a doctor of their choosing and regained custody.
Conflicting tests: The Jensens announced in September 2003 that tests showed no new evidence of cancer. The next day, their Idaho doctor recommended 11 months of chemotherapy, saying the tumor tested positive for Ewing's sarcoma - a result disputed by the parents. The family again demanded the right to direct Parker's care.
Ending the fight: Days later, state officials abandoned the fight to force Parker into chemotherapy. After meeting with the boy, Yeates agreed to dismiss the case, citing Parker's resistance and criticizing his parents.