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No Forced Chemo
November 14, 2014 permalink
In September a Six Nations family removed their daughter, identified only as JJ, from chemo therapy for cancer, replacing it with traditional (placebo) medicine. McMaster Hospital tried to get Brant CAS to take the girl into their custody, but CAS declined. The matter has now been decided by judge Gethin Edward. His decision is to leave the girl in the custody of her parents.
Judge rejects application to take aboriginal girl from family for chemo
Court dismisses McMaster application, saying family has right to choose aboriginal medicine
An Ontario judge has dismissed an application to take an aboriginal girl from her family for chemotherapy.
The judge was deciding whether the Children’s Aid Society should intervene in the case of an aboriginal girl whose family removed her from chemotherapy at a Hamilton hospital in favour of traditional medicine. The girl has been undergoing treatment for leukemia in Florida.
Judge Gethin Edward has presided over the complicated and potentially precedent-setting Brantford, Ont., court case since it began on Sept. 25.
"I cannot find that J.J. is a child in need of protection when her substitute decision-maker has chosen to exercise her constitutionally protected right to pursue their traditional medicine over the Applicant's stated course of treatment of chemotherapy," Edward said, as he read his ruling aloud.
Edward, citing the testimony of two McMaster Children’s Hospital doctors, agreed the child wasn't capable of making her own medical decisions. But he found it was the mother’s aboriginal rights — which he called “integral” to the family’s way of life — allow her to choose traditional medicine for her daughter.
"In applying the foregoing reasons to the Applicant's section 40(4) application, I cannot find that J.J. is a child in need of protection when her substitute decision-maker has chosen to exercise her constitutionally protected right to pursue their traditional medicine over the Applicant's stated course of treatment of chemotherapy."
"The application is dismissed. This is not an appropriate case to consider cost."
"I wish to thank all counsel for their efforts in this very difficult case."
— Judge Gethin Edward
Hamilton Health Sciences doctors asked for the Children’s Aid Society to separate the girl from her family so she could resume chemotherapy. The girl’s doctors said she has a 90-95 per cent chance of survival on chemotherapy, but that they didn’t know of anyone who had survived Acute Lyphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) without the treatment.
Neither the girl nor her mother can be identified due to a publication ban.
The decision was met with applause from many in the courtroom, including members of the girl's family.
"It is dismissed. It is dismissed … aboriginal rights are upheld," said a family friend, in tears, as she called the girl's mother from inside the courtroom.
The girl’s mother was expected to make a statement on Saturday.
Lawyers representing Hamilton Health Sciences, as well as the doctors who treated the girl, left quietly after the verdict. Hospital officials said they would study the ruling before making a comment later Friday.
'This is monumental'
Outside the court, Six Nations Chief Ava Hill and New Credit First Nations Chief Bryan Laforme welcomed the ruling, saying it has broader effects across Canada.
"This is monumental," said Laforme. "It reaffirms our right to be Indian and to practise our medicines in the traditional way."
Hill said the mother is "overjoyed," with the news.
When asked about what specific treatment the girl is receiving now, Hill declined to say, adding that was between the family and the girl's traditional healer — which Hill said involves the same confidentiality of a doctor-patient relationship.
The mother, Hill said, "has the right to do whatever she wants to try and save her child."
Officials from the Brant County Children's Aid Society also welcomed Edward's ruling, saying it prevents the "trauma" of taking the girl away from her family while she was being treated.
Brant CAS executive director Andrew Koster said his organization's argument wasn't based on the relative merits of medical treatments, but on the fact that the case involved a loving mother who would have been separated from her daughter.
"This was going to be two years of chemo. Does that mean we were going to take this child away for two years? And suppose she didn't make it?" Koster said.
"I truly did not believe that we should be taking her into care," he said.
Family has 'difficult decisions' to make
Mark Handelman, the lawyer representing the Children's Aid Society, said this case should remind those involved in future medical cases that patients' values and traditions should always be considered.
"In treatment decisions, the values and beliefs and wishes have a clear place."
Handelman, an expert in bioethics, said the family hasn't completely ruled out chemotherapy if it becomes necessary.
"They have difficult decisions to make, and one can only hope that the right decisions are made."
Judge Edward reiterated that no one, including the doctors from McMaster Children’s Hospital who have called for legal intervention, has suggested that the girl's mother is negligent.
"Nobody is suggesting DH is anything but a caring, loving parent," he said in his ruling.
The girl and her family have not been present in court throughout the proceedings. Neither the patient nor her family can be identified because of a publication ban in the court case.
The girl’s mother has defended her decision to seek alternative cancer treatment at the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida, a centre that focuses on nutrition and naturopathic therapy.
In a letter to CBC News, she wrote, "I will not have my daughter treated with poison .… I have chosen treatment that will not compromise her well-being and quality of life."
The family paid the institute $18,000 for the treatment. In a video obtained by CBC News, institute director Brian Clement says his institute teaches people to "heal themselves" from cancer by eating raw, organic vegetables and having a positive attitude.
"We've had more people reverse cancer than any institute in the history of health care," he says.
Addendum: An opinion by Udo Schuklenk in the Globe and Mail criticises Judge Edward's decision.
Aboriginal or not, there is no parental right to harm your child
Udo Schuklenk is Ontario Research Chair in Bioethics and professor of philosophy at Queen’s University, and joint editor-in-chief of the journals Bioethics and Developing World Bioethics.
In what has been described as a precedent-setting case, Judge Gethin Edward of the Ontario Court of Justice ruled on Friday that aboriginal parents are well within their right to remove their child from hospital care and place it into an “alternative healing” outfit. In the case he was presiding over, the healing outfit is actually registered as a massage parlour in Florida. The “doctor” treating the child has no medical qualifications; his qualifications are from a mail-order degree-mill “university.”
The 11-year-old child suffers from childhood leukemia. Experts concur that chemotherapy offers a 95-per-cent likelihood of complete remission of the cancer. It is the gold standard of care under such circumstances. The family in question has decided instead to transfer the child to said alternative healing outfit. The Hamilton-based Children’s Aid Society decided not to intervene, because the parents were providing “care” to their child. Apparently to the Children’s Aid Society it didn’t matter at all what the evidence of success for the parental ’care’ was. It turns out that it is nonexistent. According to medical specialists, another aboriginal child also treated in said alternative-healing facility has since experienced a serious deterioration in her health because leukemia has returned with a vengeance. The family paid close to $20,000 for the non-treatment of their child by the Florida-based operator of said massage parlour.
It goes without saying that cases such as these are tragic. They point to a likely breakdown in communications between the health-care professionals and the families.
Judge Edward reportedly accepted much of the argument driving the family’s decision. He claimed that scientific evidence is apparently “completely foreign” to aboriginal people. He seems oblivious to this claim’s insult to the majority of aboriginal people who don’t take their children from hospital beds to Florida-based massage parlours. Or to aboriginal people working in universities and schools as science teachers. Judge Edward also harped on for quite some time about traditional methods of healing, conveniently ignoring that the Florida-based massage parlour isn’t a traditional aboriginal medicine outfit – it’s run by a white man who visited aboriginal communities, peddling his thoroughly Western wares to the gullible.
Here is a quote that is indicative of the judge’s thinking: “Maybe First Nations culture doesn’t require every child to be treated with chemotherapy and to survive for that culture to have value.” Apparently this is also what’s of greater importance to aboriginal leaders in this case. Six Nations Chief Ava Hill and New Credit First Nations Chief Bryan Laforme have been quoted as saying: “This is monumental, it reaffirms our right to be Indian and to practise our medicines in the traditional way.” The child in question clearly has been reduced to being a pawn in a greater political struggle.
To Judge Edward and Chiefs Hill and Laforme, child welfare is not what’s primarily at stake, but the survival of aboriginal society. A nice sentiment so long as you aren’t a vulnerable child desperately needing proven medical care. Surely, the ethically relevant question here is this: Should we, as a society, override parental care decisions for their children in cases where there is overwhelming evidence that they are harming their children irreversibly, or, as in our case, where the children would face high risk of death? Aboriginal communities need to ask themselves this very same question. It may well be that treaty rights entitle aboriginal parents to remove their children from hospitals and deliver them into the hands of quacks, but achieving this truly is a Pyrrhic victory.
Surely the children’s (objective) best (survival) interests trump parental best intentions, parental ignorance, parental fanaticism, parental scepticism with regard to mainstream medicine, etc. Hospitals routinely override parental decisions by Jehovah’s Witnesses who refuse life-preserving blood transfusions for their children. And they are right to do so.
There is no parental right to harm your children. Since when has the life of a child become so cheap that we leave it to misguided parents who wish to do as they see fit, evidence be damned?
The apparent “justification” here is that it is an aboriginal child. Let us all hope that this judgment won’t stand.
Source: Globe and Mail
This editorial is an example of why the social services system loves litigation over this kind of case, a child diverted to quack therapy by unsophisticated parents. In the case decided by judge Edward, an entirely possible outcome is the death of a girl who could have been saved by modern medicine.
There is no hint in the opinion that professor Schuklenk has spoken to any of the thousands of families prescribed psychotropic drugs for their children. Many parents recognize the harm from the drugs and refuse to administer them. Those parents are tagged with medical neglect and their children are removed to a setting where the drugs can be forcibly administered. The result is maladjusted adults who as children never learned to cope with normal emotions (the drugs keep them in the same mood all the time). It even produces substantial numbers of graduates with permanent brain damage from the side-effects of the drugs. And the legal justification for the tools used force the drugs into the children? An occasional misinformed parent who rejects modern medical technology.