SHOULD YOU BE FORCED TO UNDERGO CHEMO?

An 11-year-old Hamilton boy, who likes singing and dancing and writing stories, was diagnosed with leukemia four year ago. He underwent chemotherapy and this January celebrated one year cancer-free. But the disease came back in February. The boy did one round of chemotherapy, then decided to stop aggressive treatments in favour of natural remedies, including chelation therapy, vitamins, oregano and green tea. His father agreed with his son.

Chemotherapy made him extremely ill and caused effects such as vomiting, bloating, pain in his spine and difficulty walking.

The boy’s father said his son “told us that he didn’t want to undergo any more treatment because he felt that it wasn’t going to give him quality of life, that he felt it would probably take away his life.” Two of Canada’s top pediatric oncologists have said he will die without the aggressive treatment.

Enter the Hamilton Children’s Aid Society. They obtained a court order saying the boy is compelled to undergo chemo. A judge had earlier ruled the boy is not capable of understanding the implications of refusing therapy.

Now his family can only visit him under the watchful eyes of CAS workers and security guards; his father was evicted from the hospital in handcuffs after reacting in anger when his son was seized. The father said: “We may still lose against them, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up: He would rather just go traditional and natural and take it for as long as it would take him so that he could be with his friends, and so that he could be at home with his family and play with his sister and just try to have fun and live as long as he could live.”

The boy’s family has now retained a high-profile Toronto lawyer to represent their interests.  Today the boy will receive his fourth and fifth rounds of aggressive cancer treatment under the constant watch of security guards, nurses and CAS agents.

In its lead editorial this morning The Globe and Mail came out strongly for enforced treatment:  “The 11-year-old in Hamilton may know his own body, and may not wish to suffer any more.  The father may respect his son’s wishes.  But loath as a democratic society should be to intervene in family matters, it is right to assert the value it puts on children’s lives by insisting that children can’t make life-and-death decisions.”

Do you agree the boy should be forced to undergo chemotherapy?

Do you agree with the judge that an 11-year-old boy could not make an informed decision in this matter? The Catholic church teaches that seven is the age of reason.

Who should be able to make the decision about treatment in this case?

25 Comments »

  1. 1
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    The Church says 7 is the age of reason. Piaget says before 13 the capacity to make a formal concept is just not there. Harper says you can not consent to sex before 16 and a juvenile below 12, under the current juvenile penal system, can not be charged of an offence because deemed incapable of criminal intent his judgment not being formed enough. Time and again the Courts have compelled young ones to get treatment when they or there family refused it for religious reasons when their life was at stake. This is an ethical call and God knows how much ethics vary from one person to another.
    I personnaly have very little confidence in so called “natural” treatments including the fruit juices and fruit treatments. A placebo also seems to work in some cases, but recurring leukemia? What the principals are requesting here looks like assisted suicide. This, in Canada, is also forbidden. In such emotional situation a third neutral party is often better placed to make an informed decision. The judge could be that person, CAS, because of its mission does not qualify as neutral but has to implement the Court order. The way it does it is another matter.

  2. 2
    Cate McB Says:

    This is a terrible situation. A specific “age of reason” went out long ago in Ontario law re: personal treatment decisions. An 11-year-old can certainly make an informed decision in this matter and there are criteria in the law that define the parameters of “informed”. The boy is and should be the primary decision-maker with his parents and the healthcare team, etc. being the informers. This is certainly a failure of cllinical ethics in Hamilton which is really unfortunate. That a case like this could “blow up” to this extent is also a profound failure of the healthcare system as a whole. If I was the family, I would also retain the best lawyer I could find.

  3. 3
    Joe Agnost Says:

    “In such emotional situation a third neutral party is often better placed to make an informed decision.”

    I completely disagree… you’re talking about a mother and father and their 11 year old son – THEY should be making the decision, not some judge.

    This boy has been going through chemo for 4 years now, and the parents say it doesn’t seem to be working. Not only that, but it makes him terribly sick for the limited time he has left (alive), and they think it makes him worse.

    The parents aren’t denying their son medical treatment because of religion or personal issues – this would present a different problem… they have tried the medical route and don’t think it works. Even the doctors give the boy only a %50 chance of survival WITH treatment (not that high eh?).

    I think it’s disgusting that the CAS has stepped in…

    (note: If I have any of the facts wrong in this case please point them out – this is how I remember them).

  4. 4
    Cate McB Says:

    If we look at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario policy on consent to medical treatment regarding minors, we find the following:

    “The act [i.e., The Health Care Consent Act, 1996) does not identify an age at which minors may exercise independent consent for health care because the capacity to exercise independent judgment for health care decisions varies according to the individual and the complexity of the decision at hand. Physicians must make a determination of capacity to consent for a child just as they would for an adult.”

    Even if the physician has judged the boy to be incapable of consenting, the substitute decision makers (the parents in this case) are the legal decision makers and it sounds like they are upholding their child’s decision. So they should and I think it should go all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

  5. 5
    SUZANNE Says:

    According to what I saw on the CBC, the boy will be dead in six months if he refuses treatment.

    If he takes the treatment, he will have a 50% chance of survival.

    If he survives, how long will he live?

    That’s another important factor. If they’re just buying him a year or two, (maybe!), maybe 6 months of good quality life might be more desirable.

    I’m undecided on this one, because it consists of a kid– one under 12. If it were an adult, I’d have no problem respecting the adult’s wish to refuse treatment. With a kid, I’m a little more reticent. I find with these cases, where the answer is not obvious, we often lack details and making an informed judgment. We don’t know all the details. Cancer treatment is not exactly an accessible area of knowledge– how many people know enough about cancer treatment, etc to make a good call?

  6. 6
    SUZANNE Says:

    What the principals are requesting here looks like assisted suicide.

    I’d like to address Paul’s comments.

    Refusing treatment is not “assisted suicide”. Nobody in Canada is against the notion that people should be able to refuse treatment.

    Pro-lifers object to taking deliberate actions to kill someone– like injecting a poison. If that were what was at stake here, I and other pro-lifers would be vocally against it.

  7. 7
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    From whatI have read from various sources, Joe, you have the facts right. You and Cate have a valid point of view about the situation, mine could be biased by my formal training and past work in youth protection services. But I still have my doubts about the decisions taken and their relevance. If we could know the future…then again it is better not.

  8. 8
    Cornelius T. Zen Says:

    Good morrow, all!
    Imagine what the chemotherapy is doing to the young man’s state of mind. It makes his body feel ill, which would reinforce the awareness of illness in his mind. That kind of feedback would affect his body’s ability to cope with the original illness. The quality of life is extremely contingent upon the quality of one’s conscious thinking.
    “I feel sick, I am sick. I feel lousy, I am sick. I feel out of control of my life, I am helpless.” Seriously – is this what the doctors mean by quality of life? Physician, heal thyself. CTZen

  9. 9
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    The boy went through it all 5 years ago and had been healthy since then, according to what has been written in the media. A cancer remission, at least with the friends I know who have gone through the ordeal is a very good result. Of course a recurrence is a bad omen. At my age, 50/50 would not be good enough and I would refuse treatment in full knowledge of the consequences. The boy is 11, does he not deserve a second try, painful as it may be?

  10. 10
    Cate McB Says:

    “The boy is 11, does he not deserve a second try, painful as it may be?”

    Paul, of course he deserves a second try and it has been offered to him.

    But to force it on him, given that he apparently doesn’t want it and his father supports his decision, is paternalistic medicine at the very least and battery if you want to get technical about it.

    Supposedly, we’ve left paternalism behind us in the dark ages …
    However, when I hear about cases like this, I really wonder … especially when law enforcement and the CAS has been dragged in to enforce the paternalism!!!!!!!!!!

  11. 11

    This is a very sad decision for any person of any age to make. Yet, I have a problem with any agent of government or the state interfering in what is a private family matter.

    I can only believe that the poor parents are in the best position to know what their child wants – and let’s face it, the decision for them must be awful. If the state decides it can tell parents of children what to do in this instance, where does that slippery slope lead us?

    Will home schooling be banned? How about insisting that HPV vaccines be administered to all girls, regardless of parental concerns? If the state can interfere in the case of the child’s cancer treatment, then precedent is set for further mission creep.

    This is a family matter, the bureaucrats need to step away. Sad though it is, it is no business of government to decide this.

  12. 12
    Peter LeBlanc Says:

    It is this type of tension that sometimes works itself into societal changes. If the boy dies and lives a poor quality of life while alive, then we will see more clearly that the boy and his parents made the best decision. If the boy become cancer free after the treatment, then we may think the state made the best decision.

    Capital punishment was once thought to be the best answer for people who committed murder. Today it is thought to be unacceptable.

  13. 13
    Heidi Gulatee Says:

    I agree with Suzanne about the fact that the family should, together with medical doctors in an advisory capacity, be abel to decide whether the 11 year old boy can refuse cancer treatment. I am someone that believes in prayer and miracles so for me there is a possibility that the child may survive without the terribel effects of having to go through chemotherapy.Also, if it were my son I would rather let him have a short time where he lives instead of a long time where he exists and suffers. Of course at the age of eleven I think children these days are fairly mature to help make a decision. If courts get involved it takes away from the time and energy the family can spend time together.
    I have to qualify that even if I believe in miracles, I also believe everything medical has to be done to see if it works. I believe in prayer and medical care.

  14. 14
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    Yes I have heard about “Help thyself and God will help you”. I also believe in miracles…but they are few, far apart and hard to proove.

  15. 15

    Kudos to all those who have commented on the case of the 11-year-old Hamilton boy ins such a thought-provoking and reflective way.

    There has been a positive development in court today. The boy will now be able to go home with his father (his birth-mother is dead) but the father has agreed to bring the boy back for further treatment while still trying to convince the court to allow the boy to try alternative medicines.

  16. 16
    Tanya Says:

    I am a firm believer in Natural remedies for all diseases. They have been used for thousands of years with success.
    Perhaps the reason this boy’s cancer came back is because the chemotherapy killed his immune system (it kills all cells, this is a fact).

    If you do your research you will see, after population increases are taken into account, cancer survival rates have remained unchanged through conventional medicine, while is there is striking evidence from around the world that there are many natural therapies that are more successful. Some examples if you care to research (much of that evidence is published in traditional medical journals — peer- reviewed journals that are available throughout the world)
    1.Spirulina has been found to destroy cancer tumors
    2. There is evidence of success in oxygen therapy (cancer cannot live in the presence of oxygen
    3. Cat’s Claw and other Amazon rainforest herbs, specifically Graviola, which in case you care to research was found to be more powerful than any chemo drug (by a large pharmaceutical company no less) but because they were not able to chemically recreate the compounds in a lab (and then have the ability to patent it) they ditched the research, until one brave scientist decided to come out with it
    4. There is very promising research coming from the University of Alberta on something called dichloroacetate, or DCA.

    In medical terminology a cure means without disease for something like 3-5 years…. I would not call that a cure by any means.
    If surgery, radiation and chemotherapy is the only modes of treatment available in 30 years of research, its TIME to look for alternatives.

  17. 17

    Tanya –

    Thank you indeed for your very comprehensive comment on natural therapies for cancer treatment.

  18. 18
    Joe Agnost Says:

    “If surgery, radiation and chemotherapy is the only modes of treatment available in 30 years of research, its TIME to look for alternatives.”

    Tanya brings up a good point!

    Do you know why we haven’t cured cancer yet?? Because there is SO MUCH MONEY involved in treating it! All of the best medical minds are busy developing drugs for large pharmaceutical companies – and the pharmaceutical companies don’t want a cure, that would dry up their customer base for the VERY lucrative drug business. They need cheap drugs (to make) that they can sell at a huge mark up that will help the patient but not cure them… that’s just good business.

    (I’m sure this is at least partially true – not totally though. I’m not a total nut!)

  19. 19
    Tanya Says:

    Well yea, I dont think there is necessarily a conspiracy amongst doctors to withhold real cures. but I think the way the medical system works, it just looks that way. When you have pharmaceutical companies funding the med schools, you cannot really expect much more.

    and Joe….I not a big fan of the term nut or quack, because usually it comes from someone who has something to lose, so in the interest of self interest/preservation, like to call anyone who has a differing opinion some sort of label. Nut or Quack is another word for competition IMHO.

  20. 20
    Joe Agnost Says:

    “I dont think there is necessarily a conspiracy amongst doctors to withhold real cures.”

    I agree… it’s not the doctors withholding cures – it’s the researchers NOT researching for a cure, but instead researching for pain relief or slow down measures. That’s where the money is!

    I don’t trust pharmaceutical companies ONE BIT!! And they are the ones funding the research! 😦

  21. 21
    Chimera Says:

    I’m a firm believer that one owns one’s own body, and should be the sole decision-maker regarding its health and welfare. Even when it comes to eleven-year-olds (and especially when their parents are on side with them).

    If he does not want the treatments, leave him alone. He’s been through it before, and he knows what to expect. It’s not what he wants.

    Part of the problem is that our culture sees death as something awful, to be prorogued at any and all costs. Big Pharma cultivates and pushes that attitude so the chemical companies can use us all as lab rats on which they get to try their concoctions in their quest for eternal life (over which they would assume complete control, of course). What nonsense!

    Leave the boy alone. Let him make his own choices.

  22. 22
    Anton Says:

    In having personaly gone through Chemotheraphy for Acute Leukemis, I can say I have been to hell and back 3 times.

    It is much more difficult to get a Leukemia into remission should the person acquire Leukemia a second time.

    Our government is too much invested-partnered with BIG PHARMA. There ARE Hospitals in Nova Scotia and Ontario working far too closely with BIG PAHARMA AND with Government and certain Hospitals, as in Nova Scotia, Receiving far too many Multi-Millions of Dollars from BIG PHARMA and INVESTORS GROUP International out of Nova Scotia to hospitals in Halifax and Bridgewater NS, Hospitals. BIG PHARMA sure as hell-o isn’t giv’in THAT Kind of Big Money-$ MULTI-MILLIONS of DOLLARS for noth’in, honey. You CAN bet ‘The Ranch’ there is unethical-probable illegal medical research happening in Nova Scotia hospitals. The SOUTH SHORE REGIONAL HOSPITAL in BRIDGEWATER, LUNENBURG COUNTY, NS, would be of great interest in that respect.

  23. 23

    Anton:

    Thank you for sharing your personal experience with chemo.

  24. I think that if this boy wants to choose natural remedies then he should have that right, and the government should not intervine. He knows his body best and chemo doesn’t guarantee anything. The government and the big Pharma companies have been surpressing the cure for years. Go to youtube and punch in “the Rick Simpson story” ,and watch videos 1-7. This will cure any cancer. I know Rick personally, and I would be happy to provide any information on this topic. I would also appreciate any comments. Paul_drysdale1@hotmail.com
    Remember if you cure cancer then the Pharma companies will loose billions of dollars.

  25. 25
    Lynn Says:

    I don’t believe anyone should be forced to undergo chemo. Many times chemo is what kills long before a cancer might6 . . not to mention the radioactive toxins that hospitals are faced with disposing of. . that has become a huge hazard. Wastes generated from cancer treatments can can cancer. . never ending circle. I’m 46 and no longer receive mamograms, and if I ever am diagnosed with cancer, mother nature is going to take it’s course.


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