Dec 18, 2008 — A case now in St. Lawrence County Family Court sets the county Social Services Department against religious beliefs of the old order Amish in the North Country. Family Court Judge Barbara Potter ruled this week that an Amish couple neglected their year-and-a-half year old son by refusing medical treatment for his life-threatening heart condition. Gideon and Barbara Hershberger of Winthrop say surgery needed to repair the defect violates their religious beliefs. Judge Potter will decide next Tuesday whether to allow the social services department to remove Eli Hershberger removed from his parents' custody for the surgery. Public defender William Galvin represented the family. He declined to comment on the case.
Anthropologist Karen Johnson-Weiner has been studying Amish language and customs for 25 years. She's also become with many North Country Amish families during that time. She doesn't know the Hershbergers, or their son, but she testified at trial this fall on their behalf, particularly about the Amish sect they are part of: the ultra-conservative Swarzentruber Amish. Not all Amish live by the same rules; each church community sets its own. All Amish accept modern medical care, Johnson-Weiner says, but only to a certain point, and that point differs from community to community. Johnson-Weiner told Martha Foley Swartzentruber Amish draw the line at open heart surgery, and pacemakers. And that puts the Hershbergers at odds with the surgery doctors say Eli needs.