Court Rules Minor Must Seek Cancer Treatment

By Alan Stewart Carl | Related entries in Civil Liberties, Health Care, Law

The unusual case of a cancer-stricken thirteen year-old who is refusing treatment is quickly becoming one of those unusual and unfortunate legal cases that mix religion, law and the rights of the individual.

With the support of his parents, the thirteen year-old in question is refusing chemotherapy because the family believes in “natural” healing (they are Roman Catholic but also believes in the teachings of a Missouri sect which advocates healing techniques used by some American Indians). The boy has Hodgkin’s lymphoma which is considered highly treatable with chemotherapy. But he quit after one treatment and now a Minnesota district judge has ruled that the parents are being medically negligent and the boy should be placed in foster care and immediately evaluated by cancer specialists. To complicate matters more, the boy and his mother have fled and are hiding from authorities.

The questions here are: Can the state force a minor to undergo a debilitating treatment which could save his life? And, is it negligent, from a legal standpoint, to allow your child to choose to forgo treatment of a serious disease?

Mind you, I think the parents are making a terrible mistake. But I don’t think the questions above are easily answered. Do you?


This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 20th, 2009 and is filed under Civil Liberties, Health Care, Law. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

14 Responses to “Court Rules Minor Must Seek Cancer Treatment”

  1. kranky kritter Says:

    Agreed Alan. They aren’t easily answered. Off the top of my head, I think maybe they have to be answered differently depending on the disease, the age of the minor, and the minor’s understanding of the known medical facts. And so on.

    In this particular case, the most distressing thing is clearly that with NH Lymphoma this kid stands a very good chance of survival if he gets the treatment, while he will almost certainly die if he does not get the treatment.

    IMO, the broader the gap between the likely outcomes with and without treatment, the stronger the argument for intervention. However, were I a judge, I would still look to the state of mind of the person in question. If I were satisfied that the child had a good understanding of the facts and was nevertheless steadfast in his religious conviction, I would not intervene. If this were the case, I would not use the parents as a vehicle for making an end around that made the state the deciders as new custodian of the minor.

    Bt if instead the child had a poor grasp of the facts and/or seemed to base his conviction primarily upon the force of his parents will, then I’d feel differently.

  2. michael reynolds Says:

    Children have no legal standing to make decisions like this. It’s on the parents and on the state if the parents happen to be idiots.

    Parents do not have a right to condemn their children to death, and kids don’t have the right (or responsibility) to help them do so.

    Let’s say a kid has a leg chopped off. Mom thinks all he needs is prayer. The EMT has a tourniquet. This case is just like that but in slow motion.

  3. kranky kritter Says:

    They don’t have standing, but that doesn’t mean the judge can’t listen.

    This case seems to be on the clear cut side, speaking comparatively. Granted. But what about if a kid has a disease where the mortality rate is still 50% with treatment? 60%? 70%?

  4. J. Harden Says:

    The judge will almost certainly appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the interests of the child before anything else was done. The kid needs seperate legal representation apart from his parents OR the State.

  5. Chris Says:

    I agree with both sides here, and can’t say much more than what has already been said. But I think that forcing the child to comply seems to big brother to me. if he understands he’s going to die and still doesn’t want to do it then i say let him.

  6. Trescml Says:

    So if he forced to have the treatments and due to some error is killed, is the government liable?

  7. michael reynolds Says:

    Chris:

    A 13 year-old boy understands just about nothing, certainly not death.

    We live in a country full of people who believe the Magic Celestial Daddy will snatch them up to his McMansion in the sky when they die. And those are adults.

  8. ExiledIndependent Says:

    Can a thirteen year old be tried as an adult for a crime, such as murder? In that case, doesn’t the law view the thirteen year old as mentally capable enough to understand the consequences of her or his actions? While it’s easy to dismiss others who make choices that we would not, we should all take pause at the implications here.

    The kid and the parents are making a choice that I would never make, but I wonder exactly how the State plans on enforcing this.

  9. Chris Says:

    Michael,
    I know where you’re coming from, but myself at 13 certainly understood death, but that may have been because of my own experiences, so I can’t speak for all 13 year olds.

  10. the Word Says:

    It is curious that if a parent was a pedophile they could prosecute that parent and everyone would applaud but wrap it in religion and they can kill their kid and we are supposed to stay out of it.

  11. michael reynolds Says:

    Exiled:

    When courts allow children that young to be tried as adults they are devoid of decency, and the prosecutors who file those charges are the lowest type of scum.

  12. Tully Says:

    The kid and the parents are making a choice that I would never make, but I wonder exactly how the State plans on enforcing this.

    By making the child a ward of the state and treating him, after taking him away from his parents on (justified) grounds of willful neglect and reckless endangerment.

  13. ShortWoman Says:

    Remission rate with medical intervention is about 90%. Without, it’s about 5%. The state has a duty to try and save his life, regardless of his parents’ wishes.

  14. Ellen Diann Says:

    It is not about chemo, it is about FREEDOM to choose health care. Truth: The AMA has no cure and chemo causes life long damage and death. Forcing a deadly chemo in the guise of a cure is insanity gone to seed. The AMA should be charged with murder for millions of death along with drug companies. Cures have always been with us and the natural is much safer with a much higher cure rate. The AMA does not tolerate a single death when people go natural, yet the kill us and torture us by the millions. It is insane that we should believe a lying drug pushing group of doctors that WILL NOT acknowledge a cure for the love of money. Greed controls our medicine and people to lazy to learn the truth promote the killillng.

    Please get your head out of the sand of medical FEAR and get off your drugs and get your mind right. Know the truth and the truth will make you free from all fear of all cancers.

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