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Friday, June 26, 2009

Whatever happened to rights to our own body?

I find this ruling disturbing.

Teen cannot refuse blood transfusion, top court rules.

By a 6-1 margin, the court concluded that the legal tenet of the "best interests of the child" must be the overriding principle in deciding whether mature children under 16 have the right to make their own medical decisions.

The ruling involves a Winnipeg girl, identified only as A.C., who was almost 15 years old when she was apprehended by child welfare authorities and forced to undergo a blood transfusion that she compared to "being raped and violated."

We live in an age were teens are considered mature enough to have abortions without their parents' knowledge, but a teen cannot refuse a specific medical procedure because it violates her religious beliefs?

This case reminds me of the young boy, 10 or 11 yrs old at the time, that was forced to undergo chemotherapy after his father refused to authorise treatment. At first glance at the headlines, one would easily have assumed the father was forcing his views on the son. As details were revealed, it turned out the father was following his son's wishes. How could a child so young be mature enough to make such a decision? It turned out he was in a better position to make that decision than most. He had already had chemotherapy to combat leukemia. When the cancer came back, he did not want to go through the chemo again. Instead, he wanted to try alternative methods of treatment. His father supported his son's wishes. It's important to know that the son was not refusing treatment. He just wanted to try different treatments than the one that made him feel so horrible the first time around. The doctors, however, decided they knew better than he did, and the state decided they had more rights to that boy's body than he did. He was removed from the custody of his father and forced to undergo chemotherapy.

Like the now 18 yr old girl was forced to have a blood transfusion against her wishes, this is a horrible violation. These decisions also pre-suppose that young people are incapable of making knowledgeable decisions about their own bodies and medical treatment (unless they want to end a pregnancy, of course - then they are suddenly mature enough, and their parents don't even have to know about it).

Granted, I can accept that there are situations where state intervention might be warranted, but these decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis, and there had better be good cause (ie: abuse) for such intervention!

These cases aren't unique. There are others where children and teens have tried to refuse treatment. Rarely do they succeed - I know of one case in the UK where a girl was allowed to refuse a heart transplant. These are not kids who don't know any better and simply don't want treatment, as if they were refusing to go to the dentist because they are afraid of drills. These are kids who often have been struggling with their health issues for years, if not from birth. They know what they are refusing, and they know the consequences of refusing.

Why can't medical professionals and the state respect these kids enough to accept their decisions and find ways to work with them? Forcing medical treatment on someone against their wishes is abhorrent.

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