A court decision came down in Canada which upholds an Aboriginal mother's decision to refuse chemotherapy treatment for her 11 year old daughter. The decision ruled that native people have a constitutional right to seek out traditional remedies and forsake modern medicine. The judge rejected the hospital request to have the daughter placed with children's aid so that they could resume the chemotherapy treatment.
Here's the link to the story:
As someone who considers myself to be moderately progressive and supportive of fair treatment to aboriginals and all minority groups, I must say I find this decision troubling, at the very least. Independent doctors testified that the daughter has a 90-95% chance of being cured with the chemotherapy, but she has no chance of survival without it, and withholding it is the equivalent of a death sentence.
The judge ruled that native health care have been an integral part of the Mohawk family's culture and therefore protected by the constitution. He stated the evidence showed that this was a "truly loving mother deeply committed to her longhouse beliefs and her beliefs that traditional medicines work. That right is not dependent on the treatments being proven to work according to the Western medical paradigm."
The question for me is : How does the mother's constitutional right to subscribe to traditional medicine override her 11 year old daughter's right to life? Also, what about the daughter's constitutional right to life, liberty and security of the person? It should be noted the decision concluded the daughter herself was not capable of making a decision.
When the family took her daughter out of chemotherapy, they went to an alternative health centre which is a massage centre run by a nutrition centre which 'promotes attitude, eating a raw plant based organic diet, and ridding your body of contaminants to eliminate cancer.' This does not exactly inspire confidence that this centre is equipped to treat cancer and I'm not even sure it qualifies as traditional native medicine.
At first I thought the judge's hands may have been tied by the restrictive wording of the constitution, and that perhaps the rights to practice native culture and medicines didn't address such an extraordinary case, but then the judge stated his full support for the mother's actions. In his decision, he wrote the following:
"This is not an eleventh hour epiphany employed to take her daughter out of the rigours of chemotherapy. Rather it is a decision made by a mother, on behalf of a daughter she truly loves, steeped in a practice that has been rooted in their culture from its beginnings.”
I also find this decision is inconsistent with similar cases based on religious beliefs. For example, several court cases have upheld a doctor's right to override the wishes of Jehovah's Witness parents who would withhold blood transfusions from their sick children because it is against their religious beliefs.. This case is quite similar yet the decision here allows the parent to withhold the appropriate treatment.
I imagine that no parent would want to see their child have to undergo chemotherapy with all the brutal, painful and sickness inducing side effects that go with it, but it just seems preferable to tough it out something that would save lives rather than engage in some new age treatment. It seems bizarre to me that the courts would allow it.
I'd really like to hear the thoughts of other people on this topic. I'm feeling abnormally conservative in my point of view so I'm hoping someone can straighten me out.