“Alas” reader Kathleen emails:
Anyway, I wanted to send this article your way. A young Canadian cancer patient has refused a blood transfusion (she’s a Jehovah’s Witness, and her religion prohibits the procedure), but the government’s ruled that she has to undergo the treatment, as “the teenager’s constitutional right to choose medical treatment does not override the courts’ authority to protect her life and safety.”? I thought this was interesting, especially in light of the conflicts in the US over abortion and the colliding moral values of patients and doctors. There’s been a lot of discussion about when and if a doctor can refuse to provide treatment, but what if a pregnant woman has a life-threatening condition? Can she decide she’d rather die than have an abortion?
The article Kathleen points out, and the issues it brings up, are interesting. Here’s a few quotes from the article:
A 14-YEAR-OLD Canadian Jehovah’s Witness who is suffering from cancer has lost her court fight to refuse a blood transfusion which her faith forbids.
The teenager broke down in tears when the decision was announced by Justice Victor Paisley in a Toronto courtroom, before she was taken away in an ambulance under police guard.
The girl – identified only as Sarah – had reportedly fled across the country with her parents to Ontario after a judge in her home province of British Columbia ruled she could not refuse a blood transfusion if her doctors believed it was medically necessary. [...]
The girl’s lawyers had argued that she was not seriously ill and that, even though she was a minor, she still had a right to refuse treatment.
Shane Brady, the family’s lawyer, said they came to Ontario only to receive a second opinion and had hoped to begin alternative therapy in the United States soon.
Mr Brady said: “She was seeking competent medical care. The young woman was devastated. This is a matter of patient choice.
“To be denied that choice and be told, ‘Look, you’ve got to go back to British Columbia to be treated by a doctor that you’ve lost trust in’ – that’s difficult for anybody to stomach.” [...]
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe blood is a sacred source of life and not to be misused or tampered with under any circumstances, even life-saving.
If the girl really isn’t that sick and doesn’t really need the transfusion, then obviously she shouldn’t be forced to have it.
But what if the judge is right, and she really is that sick? My tendency is to say that the decision to die for your religion is not one a 14 year old should be allowed to make. If we don’t allow 14 year olds to drink, to have sex with grown-ups, or to get married – all based on the belief that they aren’t old enough yet to fully understand the consequences of these decisions or to make a genuinely informed choice – then we shouldn’t allow them to decide to die, either.
But even as I say that, I have to admit I’ve very unhappy with the idea of the government forcing medical treatment on anyone against their will. I’m a fence-sitter on this one.
UPDATE: Kathleen sent me a link to another article, and pointed out this quote in particular:
She had already consented to chemotherapy, surgery and even possible amputation of her leg. But in a court document, the teen says a transfusion would be a violation of her person, not unlike a rape.
“It’s no different than somebody getting sexually assaulted or raped or robbed or something. You’d feel violated because it’s not anybody else’s property, it’s you.”
She makes a good case.
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