A 17-year-old Connecticut girl has been taken away from her mother by welfare services and forced to undergo chemotherapy against her will.
Cassandra, only child of single parent Jackie Fortin, was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, a case that doctors say is terminal without treatment.
Regardless of this prognosis, Cassandra and her mother are adamantly against the usage of chemotherapy – which uses chemicals and anti-cancer drugs which the Fortin’s refer to as “poison” – in her treatment. After Jackie refused to take her daughter to medical appointments and chemotherapy sessions, the State took custody of the minor, and for the past month, she has been receiving the treatment against her will.
This is not about death. My daughter is not going to die. This is about, ‘This is my body, my choice, and let me decide.’ – Jackie Fortin
The State’s legal argument in the matter is that Jackie is guilty of neglect, which led child welfare services to remove her from her home. Furthermore, given Cassandra’s legal status as a minor, the State argues that it has a right – an obligation, even – to fight for her life, preventing a situation that – due to the terminal condition of her cancer – would be akin to an assisted suicide.
The Fortins’ lawyer, Michael Taylor, will argue that the Court find in favor of the mature minor doctrine, which asserts that certain minors are competent enough to make educated decisions, such as those regarding their own lives and welfare. According to him, intellectual maturity doesn’t just take effect when a child turns 18. Taylor points out that US courts have found in the past that a citizen’s “common-law bodily integrity is a fundamental right,” even in the case of a minor.
Another family attorney, Joshua Michtom, stated, “The general rule for adults is that you can say no to treatment no matter how life-saving it may be. You can say no even to helpful treatment. If she were 18, no matter what anyone said, it would be her choice to make.”
Cassandra herself turns 18 in September, when she will be able to make her own legal healthcare decisions. Critics argue that if the teen doesn’t undergo treatment until then, however, her Hodgkin’s disease will be too advanced for any further help.
Is Cassandra mature enough to make her own decision regarding treatment? As a 17-year-old, does she fully understand the weight that her medical preferences carry, especially when her own life is very much as stake? Critics have argued that Cassandra is merely living in the shadow of her mother, who has vehemently repudiated the chemotherapy. Perhaps Cassandra has only adopted her mother’s passionate feelings about treatment, unaware of her own peril.
Aside from being a very technical case of age and protection, what this boils down to is a very conservative government agenda. From the time of our births until the time we die, we are subjected to a regiment of medication and mandatory vaccinations and procedures in schools and in the workplace. Chemo is just one of many ways to treat cancer, and it is a notoriously arduous process with debilitating adverse health effects. Often, these painful side effects are worse for many patients than simply letting the disease take its toll. Still, the State of Connecticut is arguing that, as a minor, it controls both Cassandra’s right to accept or decline the “poisonous” treatment prescribed to her, stating that her rejection of chemo is suicide, which is also illegal. Cassandra cannot choose how to live, and she cannot choose how to die.
As holistic medicine and treatment becomes increasingly popular within American society, major drug administrations often warn us against the lack of empirical evidence regarding their success rates. The Fortin’s seem to be among the believers of more natural, less aggressive approaches to cancer treatment, but the harsh reality of Cassandra’s situation may not be the time or place to toy with alternative medicine; a truth which the State upheld in court.
Regardless of your trust in mainstream medicine and your opinion on constitutional rights, we can’t forget what is really on the line here– the life of a 17-year-old girl.
Can a state force a citizen to use chemotherapy for her cancer treatment? Make up your mind here!