October 8, 2013 Updated: October 8, 2013 at 11:47 am
Facing the threat of a bitter court battle, a Colorado Springs mother on Monday resumed treating her 3-year-old son's cancer the traditional way: using chemotherapy.
Had she been left to choose, Sierra Riddle would have swapped those chemo-filled pills for a unique strain of medicinal marijuana grown near Divide.
"I'm not going to gamble with his life," Riddle said. "But at the same time, I don't think we should poison his body if he doesn't need it."
Children's Hospital doctors in Colorado Springs ordered the treatment, and the case was reported to the El Paso County Department of Human Services when Riddle refused. The case has raised the issue of parental rights when weighed against doctors' expertise - a debate that boils down to whether Landon Riddle's mother could scientifically prove her case in court, said F. Scott McCown, director of the University of Texas' Children's Rights Clinic. In other words, they have to side with research.
"You have to understand that parents have rights with regard to their children, but that children also have rights," McCown said. "Children aren't property of parents - parents can't do as they wish with regard to a child.
"And so at some point, the state has to intervene."
Doctors diagnosed Landon last fall with T-cell ALL leukemia and began him on an intensive regimen of chemotherapy and radiation, Riddle said. Though he went into remission about 45 days later, treatment protocol called for at least three years of chemotherapy to keep the disease from reappearing.
Nine months of treatments made him violently ill, his mother said, causing him to vomit 30 to 50 times a day. She moved from Utah to Colorado to seek alternative treatments and tried several remedies, including morphine and Oxycontin.
In May, Riddle tried something else.
She stopped a daily regimen of chemotherapy pills in favor of a strain of marijuana called Charlotte's Web - a variety grown and sold in Teller County that has gained national attention.
The strain features very little THC, the psychotropic agent in marijuana, but high amounts of CBD, which is believed to harness the plant's medicinal properties.
The difference was remarkable, Riddle said, adding that Landon remained in remission and the chemotherapy's side effects faded.
She planned to continue the marijuana supplements until a doctor at Children's Hospital objected and her case was reported to the El Paso County Department of Human Services.
The Colorado Children's Code outlines a parents' rights to care for their children as they see fit - a provision that often comes into play when a family's religious preference conflicts with medical practices, said Karen Logan, the El Paso County's child protection manager.
But social workers can become involved when life or safety is at risk, Logan said. She declined to specifically address Landon's case, citing department policy.
Children's Hospital officials also declined to comment on the case. In a statement, the hospital said an oncology group featured at its hospital boasts a survival rate or more than 90 percent in research trials treating Landon's type of leukemia.
In mediation overseen by El Paso County social workers, Riddle agreed to resume the chemotherapy in lieu of taking the case the court, saying she had "no choice."
She vowed to change her mind, though, should an oncologist agree to testify in favor of the marijuana treatment.
"They're not willing to work with me," she said.
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