Who Gets To Decide If This Teenage Cancer Patient Is Mature Enough To Die?
Like most teenagers thinking about turning 18, you probably picture a whole host of new freedoms being thrown your way. You can move into your own place, register to vote, finally get that tattoo you've wanted since forever and, more than anything, start to make your own decisions without having to ask your parents first. But for Cassandra C., a 17-year-old from Connecticut, turning 18 in a few months means something else -- she'll finally be able to refuse the court-ordered chemotherapy that she says is destroying her life.
"In December, a decision was made to hospitalize me," Cassandra C. wrote in an op-ed to The Hartford Courant. "I didn't know what was going to happen, but I did know I wasn't going down without a fight."
Cassandra’s doctors say that she will most likely die in two years without treatment. With treatment, however, Cassandra has an estimated 85 percent chance of surviving the illness. Regardless of her prognosis, she has been adamant in the past few months about her desire to forego chemotherapy, as she believes it will "poison" her body.
According to court documents, Cassandra was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in September of last year. Although she initially agreed to undergo chemotherapy for the life-threatening illness, she later ran away from home in protest.
Cassandra was gone for a little over a week, staying with people who said they understood her situation and wanted to take care of her, but she returned home in fear that her mother would be sent to jail.
Upon her return, she was admitted to the Connecticut Children's Medical Center where doctors “surgically implanted a port in Cassandra's chest to administer chemotherapy medications.” She began chemotherapy treatments the following day.
"I have been locked in this hospital for a month, missing time from work, not being able to pay my bills," Cassandra writes in her statement. "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."
Cassandra's age is a huge factor in whether or not she is able to refuse chemotherapy treatments, but the ruling also comes down to if the court thinks she is "mature enough" to really understand the decision she is making. As NPR reported, the hearing on Thursday was designed “to weigh whether she's mature enough to make her own medical decisions.” Given the short amount of time before she reaches 18, the real question at hand, as her ones of her lawyers explained, was if “a smart and knowledgeable 17-year-old (can) make the same choice, for better or worse, than she would be able to make without state interference nine months from now, when she turns 18."
As the Hartford Courant reported, 17 states – not including Connecticut – have what are known as “mature minor laws” on the books. Those laws “generally grant minors the ability to consent to medical treatment against the wishes of their parents," but Cassandra's case is not as clear, as she is refusing treatment -- and may die because of that.
Although it may seem like there is a lot of room for debate, the state’s Supreme Court decision was unanimous. According to CNN, the justices agreed that by running away, Cassandra proved she was not mature enough to have the final say over her treatment plan. She will continue to undergo chemotherapy for six months.
Do you think Cassandra should be forced to receive chemotherapy treatments, or do you think she's mature enough to make her own decisions about her life? Let us know in the comments.