Teen girl and mother fight state of Connecticut over right to refuse life-saving chemo
A 17-year-old Connecticut girl and her mother are fighting the state’s insistence that the girl receive chemotherapy treatment for cancer, which the girl’s mother says is full of “poison toxins” that will hurt her daughter as much as or more than her Hodgkins lymphoma.
According to the Hartford Courant, the girl, called Cassandra C., has run away in an attempt to evade the treatments, but was taken into custody and is now receiving a doctor-prescribed course of treatment as the case moves on to the state Supreme Court.
Doctors say that Cassandra will die without treatment, but her mother, Jackie Fortin, is adamant that her daughter doesn’t want to undergo chemotherapy and believes that at 17, she is competent to make that medical decision.
In a video posted by the Courant, Fortin said, “My daughter is refusing chemo because of the poison toxins that she does not want in her body. She knows the long-term effects of having chemo, what it does to your organs, what it does to your body. She may not be able to have children after this because it affects everything in your body. It not only kills cancer, it kills everything in your body.”
Cassandra was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma in September, a cancer of the body’s lymphatic tissues, which are found in the lymph nodes, the liver, spleen and bone marrow and help the body to fight infections. Hodgkins lymphoma in young people is highly treatable and survivable, but Cassandra’s medical team at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center (CCMC) agree that she will die without chemotherapy as the cancer ravages her body’s ability to fight off infection.
Nonetheless, Fortin has fought the medical team since diagnosis, removing her daughter from the hospital after a section of a lymph node was removed declaring that the family wanted “a second opinion” about the girl’s diagnosis and prognosis for survival without chemo.
The medical team contacted the Department of Children and Families (DCF), alleging medical neglect. DCF went to the state Superior Court and Cassandra was taken into temporary custody and given treatment, which even the lawyer representing the girl admits boosts her chances of surviving the illness to 80 to 85 percent.
Assistant Public Defender Joshua Michtom said that while Cassandra will probably die if she does not receive treatment, it is her decision to make.
“Can a smart and knowledgeable 17-year-old make the same choice, for better or worse, than she would be able to make without state interference nine months from now, when she turns 18?” he said to the Courant.
DCF released a statement saying that it is the agency’s duty to protect children from parental neglect and maltreatment, and that to allow Cassandra to die from a treatable illness is a violation of the law.
“(W)hen experts, such as the several physicians involved in this case, tell us with certainty that a child will die as a result of leaving a decision up to a parent,” said a statement from DCF, the agency has no choice but to intervene. “(W)e have an obligation to protect the life of the child when there is consensus among the medical experts.”
Michtom and attorney Michael Taylor, who is representing Fortin, are taking the case to the state Supreme Court in hopes of resolving the matter.
“This is an untested legal area in Connecticut and there is not much guidance,” said Michtom. “All I am asking the Supreme Court to do is send this case back to the trial court for a full hearing on the question of her legal competency to make this choice. That way, you will have psychologists and others testifying.”
“If she gets the treatments,” Michton said, “then her prognosis is pretty good. One of the doctor’s said it’s 80 [percent] to 85 percent, which is the going rate for quickly caught Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”
However, he said, in the eyes of the law, her prognosis isn’t relevant to her decision to receive or not receive treatment.
A key legal issue, Michton told the Courant, is whether the court will recognize the mature minor doctrine, which allows minors to make wishes regarding medical treatment against their parents’ desires. Cassandra’s case, he said, is a new wrinkle in the law’s reach and applicability.