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Mom fights for her daughter’s right to refuse lifesaving cancer treatment

A 17-year-old Connecticut girl, Cassandra C., has Hodgkin lymphoma. In December, her mother lost custody for honoring her daughter’s wishes to refuse lifesaving cancer treatment. Why is her mom supporting a choice that would likely kill her?

Cassandra will be 18 this fall. Her mother, Jackie Fortin, believes she is mature enough to decide on her own if she wants her cancer treated with chemotherapy. Fortin and Cassandra believe that natural alternatives would be kinder to Cassandra’s body, but are fully aware that refusing chemo would likely kill her. Cassandra has communicated that she values the quality of her life over how long she’ll live.

But this isn’t a typical right-to-die issue. Unlike in the circumstances of Brittany Maynard’s choice to end her life, Cassandra does not have terminal cancer. Doctors say chemotherapy would give her an 85 percent chance of survival. Those are excellent odds.

Despite the positive prognosis, Fortin allowed her daughter to stop treatment. Her doctors contacted the local Department of Children and Families. The court granted the state temporary custody of Cassandra, who is now being held at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and is being forced to receive chemotherapy treatment for her cancer.

It’s awful to consider anyone being forced to undergo medical treatment without consent, but it’s easy to see why the state stepped in here. Cassandra is a child, and by law, she isn’t competent enough to make life-or-death decisions. Once she turns 18, it may be a different matter entirely. Adults can refuse lifesaving treatment.

Wild claims have been made about alternative cancer treatments, but alternative medicines such as essential oils are used to treat symptoms and discomfort — not to kill cancer in the body. It’s understandable that Cassandra and her mother are wary of the side effects of chemotherapy, but when the alternative is surely death, why not focus on alternative treatments that lessen those side effects instead of refusing help entirely?

Cassandra says she has been traumatized by treatment and surgery. “I do believe I am mature enough to make the decision to refuse the chemo, but it shouldn’t be about maturity, it should be a given human right to decide what you want and don’t want for your own body,” she told The Associated Press via text.

As for Mom? “I’m proud of her,” Jackie Fortin says. “I am proud of her for standing up and fighting for what she wants and what she doesn’t want.”

What would you do if your child wanted to refuse a lifesaving medical treatment?

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