Thursday, March 22, 2007

RICHMOND — Gov. Timothy M. Kaine signed into law legislation giving teenagers and their parents the right to refuse doctor-recommended treatments for life-threatening ailments.

Mr. Kaine also announced Wednesday that several tax-relief bills were among the measures he approved as passed by this year’s General Assembly.

“Abraham’s Law” arose from the case of Starchild Abraham Cherrix, 16, of Chincoteague, and his parents, who chose alternative therapy for his Hodgkin’s disease and waged a successful court battle in Virginia against state officials who tried to force him to undergo chemotherapy.

After state social services agents objected to the family’s decision to forgo chemotherapy and asked a court to intervene, a judge threatened to jail Abraham’s parents for neglect and force him to undergo conventional cancer treatments.

Delegate John J. Welch III, Virginia Beach Republican, and Sen. D. Nick Rerras Norfolk Republican, introduced the legislation as a result of the legal battle.

“I believe this measure strikes the appropriate balance between the rights of parents and a mature child to make informed medical decisions, and the responsibility of the state to protect the health and safety of children,” Mr. Kaine said in signing the bill.

Medical and child advocacy groups, including state social services officials, opposed the measure, but it won overwhelming House and Senate approval.

The bill allows children 14 or older to refuse medical treatment if the child is sufficiently mature, all his treatment options have been considered and if the refusal of a prescribed regimen is done in what the parents believe is the child’s best interest.

Courts still would have to determine whether parents in such cases are neglectful.

Attorneys for Abraham and the state reached a settlement in August that allowed him to forgo chemotherapy as long as he is treated by an oncologist who is certified in radiation therapy and interested in alternative treatments.

He underwent five weeks of low-dose radiation therapy at a Greenwood, Miss., clinic last fall, shrinking tumors in his neck and chest. He just returned from another round of treatments “with a clean bill of health,” Barry Taylor, the boy’s attorney, said Wednesday.

The Cherrixes, who have five children, blame the monthslong legal battle for their recent separation and the loss of their home and family kayaking business.

“The family is quite elated. They are glad it passed because they don’t want another family to have to endure what they did,” family spokeswoman Sharon Smith said.

Mr. Kaine also signed several bills that provide forms of tax relief.

One measure removes about 140,000 low-income Virginians from the income tax rolls by expanding the minimum threshold for filing taxes from $7,000 to $11,950 for individuals and from $12,000 to $23,900 for couples by 2012.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, sought such a measure in the budget amendments he submitted to the Republican-controlled General Assembly in December.

“I am pleased that there was strong bipartisan support for our initiative,” Mr. Kaine said. The measure was sponsored jointly in the House by Delegates Benjamin L. Cline, Rockbridge Republican, and Kenneth R. Melvin, Portsmouth Democrat, and in the Senate by Sen. Walter A. Stosch, Henrico Republican.

Other tax-reduction measures Mr. Kaine signed include:

• Tax exemptions for the purchase of home-heating stoves that burn alternative fuels such as shelled corn, wood pellets or the pits of olives or cherries.

• A four-day sales-tax holiday in October for purchasing energy-efficient appliances.

• A prohibition of the state’s business, professional and occupational license tax on automobile fuel tax payments by fuel retailers.

• A bill making the taxation of industrial tools and machines more uniform and consistent.

• A one-week sales-tax holiday in May for purchasing emergency supplies and equipment such as gasoline-powered generators in preparation for hurricane season.

• A $5,000 state income-tax deduction for expenses related to organ donation.

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