[guest post by Dana]
Cassandra C, as she is known, is a 17-year old girl with cancer. She was given an 85-90% chance of recovery with chemotherapy treatment for Hodgkins lymphoma, one of the most treatable forms of cancer. However, Cassandra did not want chemotherapy, believing it was “poison.” Her mother, Jackie Fortin said Cassandra believed chemo would not just kill her cancer, but “everything in her body” as well. Fortin stood along side Cassandra in her decision not to undergo chemo treatment:
“[These] are her human constitutional rights to not put poison in her body,” Fortin said. “Her rights have been taken away. She has been forced to put chemo in her body.”
After losing an appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court, Cassandra is now being compelled by the state to undergo chemotherapy:
The state’s highest court reviewed the case under an emergency appeal filed by attorneys representing Cassandra and her mother, taking up an issue previously decided by several other states – whether some minors are mature enough to make decisions about their own bodies.
On Thursday, the judges decided that Cassandra is not mature and will continue to receive chemotherapy. She turns 18 in September, a year after her cancer diagnosis.
“Connecticut Children’s respects the decision provided by the Supreme Court this afternoon. Now that a ruling has been issued, we will continue to work with the Department of Children and Families in providing care for this child,” said Bob Fraleigh, director of corporate communications at Connecticut Children’s.
In an op-ed written by Cassandra, she describes the whole ordeal as “horrifying”:
Words cannot describe what my life has become over the last few months. “Horrifying” seems like an understatement. What I have been going through is traumatizing. Never did it cross my mind that one day I would be diagnosed with cancer. In September, after a stressful summer of blood work, examinations and biopsies, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
My mom and I wanted to make sure my diagnosis was correct, so we agreed to seek a second opinion. We wanted to be 100 percent sure I had cancer. Apparently, going for the second opinion and questioning doctors was considered “wasting time” and “not necessary.” My mom was reported to the Department of Children and Families for medical neglect because we weren’t meeting the doctors’ time standard.
As a result, DCF put Cassandra into foster care. She was permitted to return to her own home after promising authorities that she would begin chemotherapy. She underwent treatment for two days, quit and ran away in order not to be forced to put something into her body that she did not want. Fearing authorities would assume her mother was refusing to disclose her whereabouts (which her mother did not know) and perhaps be jailed, Cassandra returned home. And once again she was picked up by DCF. Her ordeal was not over, far from it:
In December, a decision was made to hospitalize me. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I did know I wasn’t going down without a fight.
I was admitted to the same room I’m in now, with someone sitting by my door 24/7. I could walk down the hallway as long as security was with me, but otherwise I couldn’t leave my room. I felt trapped.
After a week, they decided to force chemotherapy on me. I should have had the right to say no, but I didn’t. I was strapped to a bed by my wrists and ankles and sedated. I woke up in the recovery room with a port surgically placed in my chest. I was outraged and felt completely violated. My phone was taken away, the hospital phone was removed from my room and even the scissors I used for art were taken.
I have been locked in this hospital for a month, missing time from work, not being able to pay my bills. I couldn’t celebrate Christmas and New Year’s with my friends and family. I miss my cat and I miss fresh air. Having visitors is complicated, seeing my mom is limited, and I’ve not been able to see all of the people I’d like to. My friends are a major support; I need them. Finally, I was given an iPad. I can message my friends on Facebook, but it is nowhere near like calling a friend at night when I can’t sleep or hearing someone’s voice to cheer me up.
This experience has been a continuous nightmare. I want the right to make my medical decisions. It’s disgusting that I’m fighting for a right that I and anyone in my situation should already have. This is my life and my body, not DCF’s and not the state’s. I am a human — I should be able to decide if I do or don’t want chemotherapy. Whether I live 17 years or 100 years should not be anyone’s choice but mine.
How long is a person actually supposed to live, and why? Who determines that? I care about the quality of my life, not just the quantity.
At the heart of the issue is the question of when a minor is mature enough to make medical decisions for themselves. While 17 other states have the “mature minor” doctrine, Connecticut does not. The courts did not believe Cassandra or her mother proved Cassandra capable of making life and death decisions:
The state Supreme Court order argues that Cassandra, along with her mother, had a chance to show that she was a mature minor and did not do so. It also says that even if you presume the mature minor doctrines can be considered in Connecticut, Cassandra and her mother failed to prove she is “capable of acting independently” when it comes to her illness and treatment. (The court cites the fact that Cassandra ran away from home for a time and stopped her treatment as a part of this finding).
And then there is the ambiguity and seeming inconsistency about a set age defining maturity:
The existence of age-related laws and requirements creates a certain gray area. Does a person who is one week shy of turning 21 change dramatically over the ensuing week before being deemed mature enough to drink alcohol? It is tough to argue that a mere matter of days represents enough time for incredible change to occur for each and every person governed by these laws. There are also exceptions to the rules that exist. You typically have to be 25 to rent a car, but in some states younger drivers can rent a car if they are willing to pay an additional fee.
Interestingly, abortion for minors in Connecticut is legal and does not require parental consent or notice. There is, however, a requirement for minors under 16 to receive counseling beforehand, which must include the possibility of informing parents.