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Girl Forced Under Knife

July 15, 2010 permalink

A teenaged Orangeville girl is about to have part of her body removed by surgeons against her will and against the will of her parents. A court justifies the use of force based on a medical opinion.

Is this a family of religious kooks who need intervention to save a life? Or a victim of over-zealous intervention, such as Katie Wernecke? (blog, father). We will never know, since under Ontario law the name of the family is secret, and they are unable to present their side in public.

For Ontario children, there is no right to refuse medical treatment, or even to seek alternative opinions.



Judge removes sick teen from parents’ custody

The parents of a teenager, who suffers from a rare neuromuscular disorder, lost the right to choose what type of treatment their daughter receives, following a child protection hearing held late last week.

As a result of Ontario Justice June Maresca’s ruling inside an Orangeville courtroom last Thursday (July 8), the teen will be placed in temporary care of the Children’s Aid Society of Dufferin County, which now has the authority to “consent” she undergo major surgery.

“This same disease is activated by stress and taking her away from us could put her into a more serious condition,” the girl’s father said. “We don’t want that. We want to try other options.”

Under Section 45.8 of the Child and Family Services Act of Ontario, The Banner is unable to name the child, her disorder, any of her family members or the name of the impending surgery, in order to protect her identity.

Rather than see their child undergo the procedure, the parents, who view the surgery as contrary to their religious beliefs, were hoping to send their daughter to a treatment centre called The Cleansing Way in the state of Washington. It was their hope she would receive herbal and natural treatments there, as well as what they believe is the healing power of prayer.

Never completely ruling out the surgery under contention for several years, the family wished to explore alternative treatments first, before deciding on whether to pursue the “invasive surgery” as a “last resort,” the girl’s father explained.

“It is based on, for me, having an option, our choice,” he said. “We haven’t exercised our choice to have alternative measures or try any alternative measures that may possibly work.”

The case raises ethical questions about whether parents, and also adolescents themselves, have the right to refuse medical treatment in favour of alternative medicine.

In 1999, the parents of a Saskatchewan boy with a form of bone cancer called osteogenic sarcoma refused the final stages of chemotherapy and the amputation of one of his legs — the only recognized treatment for the disease — and argued for alternative medicines in Mexico.

Although the court ruled the 13-year-old undergo the procedures, afterwards doctors found the boy’s cancer had spread to his lungs, meaning there was only a slight chance treatment would improve his condition. Once doctors withdrew their calls for chemotherapy, the boy was treated at the American Biologics hospital in Tijuana, Mexico, before later dying at St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatchewan on June 30, 1999.

Similarly, in 1995, a Jehovah Witness couple temporarily lost custody of their child, who was deemed in urgent need of a blood transfusion, to the Children’s Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto. In their subsequent legal claim, the Supreme Court of Canada, as many courts reiterated before, ruled freedom of religion, like any freedom, is not absolute when contrary to the best interests of a child.

Then, in 2009, a ruling in the Supreme Court of Canada changed the way medical care providers were to assess the decision making capabilities of children under the age of 16.

In that case, A.C. v. Manitoba (Director of Child and Family Services), the court decided the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms requires medical care providers to respect the judgment of children under 16 who refuse treatment, as long as they’re determined to be mature and independent enough to make a life and death decision on their own behalf.

In that ruling, through Madam Justice Rosalie Abella, five judges on the Supreme Court stated, “If, after a careful and sophisticated analysis of the young person’s ability to exercise mature, independent judgment, the court is persuaded that the necessary level of maturity exists, it seems to me necessarily to follow that the adolescent’s views ought to be respected.”

However, in the Orangeville family’s case, Maresca ruled in favour of a physician’s assessment, determining the teenage girl did not have decisional capability to choose treatment. Noting an “admiration for her courage and faith,” Maresca said what concerned her most was the girl “believes she is getting better” despite medical advice to the contrary.

According to written testimony submitted by Dr. Jiri Vajsar, clinical director of neurology at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, there are no further medical treatments available for the child and if her conditions are not treated in a timely matter, the risk is death. Dr. Vajsar also testified that the girl’s episodes of crisis, as a result of the disorder, have become more frequent and that current treatments haven’t improved her condition.

“I find that without the proposed surgery, (the child) will die. … I also find she does not have months (to wait),” Maresca said, weighing her ruling on Dr. Vajsar’s written testimony, “the best … if not the only” credible medical evidence available to her. “A decision must be made now.”

Given the crux of the case was ultimately decided upon one piece of medical evidence submitted by the lawyer for Dufferin Child and Family Services, the family believes the outcome might have been different if they were better prepared.

With their daughter’s surgery date tentatively scheduled for next week, the family is weighing its options in terms of filing an appeal.

“We didn’t have enough time to gather enough information,” the father claimed. “That makes a big difference. So definitely, everything you can see was rushed. … We were helpless. Our hands are tied behind our backs.”

Source: Orangeville Banner