“Take Your Medicine” Taken To An Extreme

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 8 2015 @ 10:21am

A 17-year-old in Connecticut is fighting for the right to refuse cancer treatment:

Known as “Cassandra C.” in court papers, the teenager has Hodgkin lymphoma. Doctors say her survival rate is 80-85 percent with chemotherapy, and she will die without it. Cassandra says she believes chemo is “poison,” and wants to discontinue treatment. Her mother, Jackie Fortin, supports her decision, telling NBC News: “My daughter does not want to poison her body. This is her constitutional right as a human being.” … [C]hild protective services became involved after [Cassandra] missed several doctor’s appointments and stopped going to tests. She was removed from her home, and is now in a monitored room at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

In the process, she was forced to undergo two chemo sessions. Nicholas St. Fleur provides context to the “legal battle over whether a 17-year-old can make medical decisions about her own body”:

In the U.S., adults have the right to bodily integrity, meaning they can refuse life-saving medical treatment. … Only a few states allow the “mature minor doctrine” which lets 16 and 17-year-olds argue in court whether they are mature enough to make medical decisions. In 1989, Illinois had a case where a 17-year old Jehovah’s Witness with leukemia who was allowed to refuse life-saving blood transfusions. Normally this doctrine is used when children want to receive treatment that their parents are refusing, but in this case the girl’s parents also agreed in accordance with their religious beliefs. The court decided in favor of her right to refuse treatment under the mature minor doctrine.

Ironically, the girl survived her bout with leukemia because she had already received a transfusion before the court made its decision. It’s unclear if Cassandra’s appeal, which will be Connecticut’s first case calling for the “mature-minor doctrine,” will face similar judicial impediments.

Update from a reader:

This story recalls a somewhat different one in Canada recently, where the aboriginal parents of a young girl (pre-teen, if I remember) refused the chemo that doctors said was necessary and would be successful in favour of traditional aboriginal medicine. The judge in the case sided with the parents on the basis of constitutional aboriginal rights. The parents brought their child to a holistic treatment centre in Florida (one which did not provide particularly aboriginal therapies), but made it clear subsequently that if her condition deteriorated they would agree to a more “Western” medical approach. Needless to say, despite the differences with the case you discuss, it generated considerable debate in the country.