A 17-year-old girl in Connecticut who was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma has decided she does not want to receive chemotherapy to treat her disease. The mother of Cassandra C., as she is known, supports her decision, but the state of Connecticut does not. It has removed Cassandra from her mother’s custody, given itself the authority to make medical decisions on her behalf, and initiated chemotherapy treatments against her will. On January 8, 2015, the Connecticut Supreme Court denied Cassandra’s appeal of the ruling requiring her to undergo treatment and ordered her to continue receiving chemotherapy.
If my daughter were diagnosed with the disease Cassandra is facing, I would high-tail it with her to the nearest cancer treatment center, stat. Hodgkin lymphoma, also known as Hodgkin’s Disease, is one of the more treatable, curable types of cancer. The physical ordeal of chemotherapy seems a small price to pay if it results in a return to health and the prospect of a longer life. But I am not the mother here; a woman named Jackie Fortin is, and Fortin claims that her nearly-adult daughter has carefully considered her options and their potential consequences and does not want to undergo chemotherapy at this time, preferring instead to investigate alternative treatments.
The Schizophrenic State
It is difficult for any of us who have not faced a potentially terminal disease to know what we would do in the same situation. What is not difficult is to see the philosophical and legal disconnect in play in the state of Connecticut. The same state arguing Cassandra is not capable at this time of responsibly deciding, with her mother’s counsel, whether to have chemotherapy would have no problem, were she to seek an abortion, with allowing her to make that medical decision entirely on her own. Connecticut is one of only two states (the other is Maine), along with the District of Columbia, that requires no form of parental notification or consent in order for a minor child to obtain an abortion.
Some will no doubt argue that there is a difference between chemotherapy and abortion, claiming that withholding chemotherapy poses a greater risk to the individual than administering an abortion. The lack of chemotherapy could lead to Cassandra’s imminent death, they will say, whereas an abortion is a safe surgical procedure with a quick recovery time and few lasting repercussions. It is a specious and deceptive argument. It is impossible to know what course Cassandra’s lymphoma would take without chemotherapy since to do so would be the equivalent of proving a negative.* It is also impossible to immediately know what lasting effects, both physical and mental or emotional, an abortion will wreak on the female receiving it. A significant body of research, however, suggests the risks, particularly to teenagers, are much more extensive than the abortion pushers would have us believe.
The scenario in Connecticut highlights the basic schizophrenia that permeates issues of life and liberty in not only that state but in the country as a whole. The cognitive dissonance is astounding. The secular Progressive nanny state believes that a 17-year-old should not have the right to refuse radical medical treatment. But those same secular progressives have no problem with a 17-year-old deciding on her own to get an abortion, nor would they have a problem with Cassandra’s mother ending the former’s life if Cassandra were in utero. This same mindset finds nothing questionable in the various ways people these days want to play God when it comes to procreation. And if the issue at hand is not chemotherapy but “gender” identity, well, the child knows best, even if she’s only five years old.
Some Choices Are More Equal Than Others
Could it be that some kinds of liberty are more politically correct than others? Could it be that the state is less interested in protecting people than in expanding its own power and promoting its own agenda as it determines on what basis people get to live and die as well as what is allowable at every point in between?
Cassandra C. and her mother appealed, and plan to continue appealing, their case on the grounds of the “mature minor doctrine.” This doctrine, which has not been widely tested in courts, asserts that children who are not of adult age may nevertheless be able to make medical decisions with the same understanding of an adult if they have attained a certain level of maturity. Cassandra is not 5, but 17; she will have her eighteenth birthday later this year. Is something magical going to happen to her on that day which will suddenly make her more able to make this decision than she is right now? I don’t think so.
Cassandra recently wrote an op-ed detailing her experience of the last few months. As a mother of a daughter not much older than Cassandra, I read it with conflicting reactions. Again, if I were Cassandra’s mother, I would want her to get the chemotherapy. If she were inclined not to do so, I would use all my powers of persuasion (and they are many) to change her mind. But the thought of forcing a child who will be a legal adult in a few months to submit to a treatment that she does not want is detestable to me. The description of that process from Cassandra’s point of view is heartbreaking. If my daughter refused chemotherapy, I think it would be crucially important to provide her with a sense of security and trust going forward. That would not be achieved by forcing on her a treatment she does not want. The best patients are invested in their own care and survival. Who knows? That might be achieved in this case if only the state would let Cassandra’s mom be her mom.
When Brittany Maynard committed suicide a few months ago she was widely hailed as a brave and heroic champion of “death with dignity.” I have nothing but compassion for Maynard, who was facing something no human being should have to face. But I don’t think she was a hero. I wish she had had the support she needed to be able to embrace life in whatever form it was given rather than to seek a premature death. Some people will try to draw a parallel between her situation and that of Cassandra C. and suggest that if one is going to support Cassandra’s right to forego chemotherapy he must also support Brittany’s right to die. But the fact is the two situations are substantively different. Cassandra C. is not seeking death but the freedom to live what days she has in the manner she wants. If that means a life free of cell-killing poisons, she should be allowed to do so.
* Since most people do choose treatment, there has been little research on the natural progression of the disease if left untreated. There are, however, case studies of patients whose untreated Hodgkin’s remained stable even when left untreated for a significant length of time.