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Utah Backs Off Forced Chemo

Utah officials are no longer seeking to take Parker Jensen, 12, from his parents, Daren and Barbara Jensen, who fled the state last month with their son.

The Jensens, who have since returned to Utah, said they fear the treatment would stunt Parker's growth and leave him sterile.

Because of his parents' fierce resistance to chemotherapy - recommended by at least four doctors - Parker probably wouldn't benefit from the treatment because of his unreceptive psychological state, said Carol Sisco, a spokeswoman for the Division of Children and Family Services.

The boy's court-appointed attorney in the custody dispute also relented. "My client's been placed in a position where it's almost untenable for him to get medical treatment," said Mollie McDonald.

Daren Jensen said he is skeptical of the state's intentions and reiterated his desire to be in charge of his son's medical treatment, according to reports in Tuesday editions of The Salt Lake Tribune.

"It is time for the parents to take control and move forward," he said.

The Jensens want to pursue alternative treatments for Parker, diagnosed earlier this year with Ewing's sarcoma. They fled Utah in August after the state ordered them to relinquish custody to the state so Parker could receive chemotherapy. They were charged with kidnapping but later surrendered voluntarily.

In exchange for keeping Parker, the parents agreed to a new round of tests by an Idaho oncologist, Dr. Martin Johnston, and to abide by his treatment recommendation.

Johnston recommended an 11-month regimen of chemotherapy, but the Jensens maintain new tests do not show signs of cancer in Parker's body.

"They agreed in court that they would follow the doctor's recommendations. They've now said they won't do that. So what can we do?" Sisco said. "Do we take him in custody and force him into chemotherapy? We just don't think that will work."

Daren Jensen told that newspaper that he and his wife have not violated the legal agreement. The Jensens have said they felt coerced to sign the agreement.

"We just told them we would never be happy, nor be convinced that what they were doing was right. We never said we would not comply," he told the newspapers.

Juvenile Court Judge Robert Yeates is scheduled to consider the status of the case, including Parker's treatment and the Jensens' agreement, at an Oct. 8 hearing.

State kidnapping charges also are pending against the Jensens, who remain free on their own recognizance.

"The center of the controversy is that no one can prove that there's a single cancer cell in Parker's body," Daren Jensen told The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm in an interview Tuesday, Sept. 16. "And that's why we've been very resistant to the fact that chemotherapy is appropriate at this time."

The Jensens say they have three pathology reports that are very different. Barbara Jensen says she does not believe the doctors they have seen so far know what is best for Parker.

On Friday, Sept. 12, they met with their newest doctor in Idaho.

Dr. Martin Johnston was the second doctor to give Parker a physical examination and the fourth doctor to recommend that Parker receive chemo. This news was a blow to Parker's parents, who say they believe the chemo treatments will do more harm than good.

"I think they're going from a cookbook that says, like Daren said, that he has what one person has diagnosed as Ewing's sarcoma and rubber stamped," said Barbara Jensen. "This doctor in Idaho hasn't run any tests yet, but he's already mandated it might be chemotherapy."

The Jensens had been on the run since Aug. 8, when a judge ordered Parker to begin treatment no later than Aug. 8. They had been staying in Idaho until early September.

Asked what the family would do if it is proven that Parker does indeed have cancer, Daren said, "I guess the point really is, are we, as Americans, are we allowed to search the best treatment available in the world? And, so far, we've been mandated by the court that, no, we are not allowed to do that, that we have to abide by those people that treat cancer here in the U.S. And we are not allowed to go worldwide and pull in the experts that could possibly help Parker if, indeed, he does have cancer."

When Parker was asked about his newest doctor, he said, "I really don't like him. He wants to kill me with poison."

Daren Jensen said his son has been very active in researching and studying Ewing's sarcoma as well as soft-tissue sarcomas.

"He's a young man," the father said. "He deserves to know what he's up against. It's his life he's dealing with, so we've made it a point to include him on all of the meetings and give him the dignity of being a young man so he knows and understands the situation he's in."

The Jensens had been fighting extradition from Idaho, where they were staying with Barbara Jensen's parents. On Wednesday, Sept 10, the Jensens turned themselves in voluntarily to Utah officials and were released on their own recognizance with no travel restrictions.

They returned to Idaho for the doctor's visits, but were back in Utah in the middle of September for a series of legal meetings. They are seeking to have the kidnapping charges dropped in negotiations with authorities.

The Jensens have five children, four of whom are now attending public school in Idaho. Parker is home schooled.

The following is a timeline of events leading up to the visit with the Idaho specialist:

  • May 2, 2003 - Doctors take a biopsy sample from a tumor on the floor of 12-year-old Parker Jensen's mouth and submit it for pathology tests.
  • May 9 - Parker is first seen by Lars M. Wagner at Primary Children's Medical Center for evaluation of the biopsy.
  • May 19 - Wagner is notified by Primary Children's pathologists that the tumor had been confirmed to be Ewing's sarcoma. He meets the following day with the Jensen family to relay the diagnosis and complies with the family's request to have the tumor sample sent for confirmatory testing at Dana Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard University. The Jensens cancel that test before it is performed, however, after their insurance company refuses to pay for the consultation.
  • June 17 - State officials file a petition to intervene on Parker's behalf, asking the court to expedite the scheduling of a hearing.
  • June 20 - Doctors remove the tumor entirely, and a tissue sample is sent to the University of Washington Medical Center Pathology Department, which later confirms the tumor is Ewing's sarcoma. In a hearing before Judge Robert Yeates the same day, attorneys for the Jensens say the family is seeking treatment and that they believe a compromise can be reached in the case. All parties agree to another hearing on July 10.
  • July 10 - In a second court hearing, the Jensens say they intend to obtain an evaluation from Los Angeles Children's Hospital and stipulate that they will follow whatever treatment is recommended by the Los Angeles hospital. Three days later, Primary Children's sends Parker's tissue sample to the Los Angeles hospital for testing.
  • July 28 - In a third court hearing, David Tishler, a pediatric oncologist at Los Angles Children's Hospital, testifies by phone that the hospital's pathologists also had confirmed a diagnosis of Ewing's sarcoma. Tishler recommends chemotherapy treatment within seven to 10 days, and the judge orders that such treatment be given to Parker by a board-certified oncologist of the family's choice, but no later than Aug. 8.

    The Jensens tell the judge they intend to seek another opinion from Charles Simone, a New Jersey physician. Tishler also reports that at the family's request, Parker's tissue samples have been passed on to Elaine Jaffe at the National Institute of Health.

  • Aug. 8 - The court-ordered day for Parker's treatment arrives and court officials and state attorneys have not heard from the family. The Jensen's attorney confirms the boy has not received chemotherapy and says that the family is seeking to have the boy enrolled in clinical trials at the Burzynski Clinic in Houston.

    Judge Yeates convenes a conference call involving attorneys for all sides and Karen Albritton, a pediatric hematologist-oncologist at Huntsman Cancer Institute. She reports that the treatment offered in the Burzynski trials is not chemotherapy and that Parker is unlikely to qualify to participate anyway, as the trial is limited to those for whom traditional chemotherapy has already failed.

    The judge issues a warrant placing Parker in state protective custody, a move supported by Parker's court-appointed guardian, who notes "there had already been an 11-week delay in the chemotherapy."

  • Aug. 15 - Kidnapping charges are filed against Daren and Barbara Jensen by the state of Utah.
  • Aug. 27 - Concerned about the need to counter information about the case made public by the Jensen family, the boy's state-appointed guardian asks a judge to lift a gag order, setting the stage for a rare suspension of confidentiality in the case. Two days later, the judge agrees.
  • Sept. 10 - The Jensens turn themselves into Utah authorities and are released on their own recognizance.

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