Parents’ rights to refuse treatment for their children

A short post today about the situation all over the news recently where a First Nations’ woman pulled her daughter out of chemotherapy to pursue traditional Aboriginal remedies. I vehemently disagree with the judge’s decision to allow Aboriginal parents to risk their children’s lives in such a way. This has been written about a lot recently, but my sentiments are best echoed by Andre Picard in the Globe & Mail who wrote:

An 11-year-old girl has been condemned to die. A second will likely follow suit. And then how many more? How does anyone dare to call this a victory?

I go back to the principle that what should be considered ethical and just is based on the accepted norms of society. In some countries, female genital mutilation is considered acceptable; in Canada, it clearly is not. Should we allow parents to pursue this horrific practice in Canada if they claim that this is their tradition and they should have the autonomy to do as they wish when it comes to their kids? I would argue the recent decision in Hamilton sets a poor precedent where autonomy will be considered sacrosanct and we will lose some of our ability to protect children.

I also feel the need to comment on some excepts from another article written on Friday about the situation.

The doctors at McMaster did not prevent her from [using traditional methods]. But, she said, they wanted to know what was in the treatments she was administering – something D.H. said she took as a subtle message that the native remedies were frowned upon.

So this mother would prefer the oncologists be willfully ignorant of what is going into their patient’s body, and not to care about or monitor for potentially harmful interactions between the natural remedies and chemotherapy? This is ignorance at its worst.

And, although her daughter was allowed to participate in a First Nations healing ceremony at the hospital, said D.H., “right after our ceremony was done, somebody told me the nurse turned to them and said, ‘She’s all better now, right?’” The sarcastic comment helped persuade D.H. to end the chemotherapy, which was supposed to have continued for another two years.

Here is the anecdote I had assumed existed from the start. And it goes to show that all healthcare practitioners need to be culturally sensitive and aware. Is this an overreaction by the mother? Yes. But perhaps this entire nightmare could have been avoided if a negative comment like the one above had never been uttered.

The decision to rely on the treatments of her ancestors was not made solely because she does not want to watch her daughter wrestle with the miserable side effects of chemotherapy, D.H. said. Rather, it is because she believes it will work.

How is this place in any way related to treatments of First Nations ancestors?

“I have never said I wrote it off,” said D.H. “Right from the beginning, I said this is what I am going to do. If it ever comes to where she’s not responding any more, I would consider chemotherapy. I always have to say I would not watch my daughter perish. Common sense prevails.”

Well, at least a little bit of common sense. I just hope that when she finally decides to go back to conventional chemotherapy, it isn’t too late.

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