Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

When Do We Become Autonomous?

By Michael Cook

It’s more important for a child to live to become an autonomous adult than to die to defend her mother’s prejudices against medicine.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

I am used to controversy, but sometimes you do get surprises. The hot button issues of bioethics – abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research, genetically modified foods – always generate passionate controversy, but I never imagined that chemotherapy for a 17-year-old girl would interest anyone.

I was quite wrong. I have hardly ever received so many comments on an issue.

Here’s what happened. Cassandra C., aged 17 years and 3 months, was living in the American state of Connecticut when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. Without chemo, most patients die within a couple of years. With it, they have an 85% survival rate.

These statistics did not sway Cassandra from her belief that chemotherapy was toxic. She feared being ill during treatment, damage to her organs and possibly becoming infertile. She refused to be treated. Her mother, Jackie Fortin, supported her decision to the hilt, fully aware that her daughter might die. She allowed her to skip her chemo appointments.

On her 18th birthday, Cassandra will become a legal adult and will be able to refuse chemotherapy. Until then she is a minor and the state ultimately has responsibility for her.

The clock was ticking. Last October Connecticut police and the Department of Children and Families (DCF), alleging “medical neglect”, removed her from her mother’s care and placed her with...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.