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Medical policy for kids advances

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A bill designed to allow parents to make medical decisions for their children wouldn't have helped the famous case that spawned it.

So said Daren Jensen in testimony on SB83 before it was approved unanimously Wednesday by the House Health and Human Services Committee. Jensen's son, Parker, whose case became a national news story in the summer of 2003 when his parents defied state child welfare officials by refusing doctor-prescribed chemotherapy, was on hand at the hearing and apparently healthy.

Barbara and Daren Jensen fled Utah to fight a custody order sought by DCFS to force treatment for their son's diagnosed bone cancer and were charged with felony kidnapping charges that were eventually dropped after a compromise was reached.

"When we went to court, even before we could explain our decision, we were described as unreasonable," Jensen said.

SB83 bill would give parents the opportunity to make "reasonable and prudent" medical decisions for their children, even if they conflicted with recommendations of other doctors, and would require the state to present "clear and convincing" evidence that those parental decisions were unreasonable or not prudent to overrule the parental decision.

Jensen said that the state was wrong and introduced a healthy Parker to the committee as proof. At the time, the family disagreed with the diagnosis and preferred to use treatments favored in Europe, which use chemotherapy as a final option, instead of American therapy, which uses chemotherapy first, he said.

Bill sponsor Sen. David Thomas, R-South Weber, made a similar attempt at legislation that failed at the last minute during last year's session.

Barbara Jensen, Parker's mother, said Wednesday that no cancer has actually ever been found in their son, although they are still continually monitoring his health.

Thomas said that his intent is to give "informed" parents the chance to choose what they feel is the best treatment, which is why SB83 allows parents to seek second opinions, even from alternative medical sources, without completely stripping the state of the ability to protect children. If a change in the bill's language was needed to reinforce the parental rights, he was willing to consider it.

DCFS Director Richard Anderson, who opposed the bill last year because it required the state to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the parental decision was wrong or dangerous to the child, said that the bill's current language is much better.

"This is an improvement over what we had last year," he said. "It gives clear direction to us when we are forced to make these decisions."

E-mail: jloftin@desnews.com