A 17-year-old Connecticut girl suffering from Hodgkin's lymphoma has been court-ordered to undergo chemotherapy, despite the fact that she doesn't want the treatment and has the support of her mother to refuse it. After the teen refused the drugs, her mother says she was removed from their home. She's now hospitalized, under guard, and has had her cellphone confiscated.
The girl, referred to in court filings as "Cassandra C.," was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in September, after noticing in May that her neck was swollen and spending the summer undergoing tests. That's according to her mother, Jackie Fortin, who told FOX CT that after the diagnosis, doctors at Connecticut Children's Medical Center (CCMC) recommended chemo. Cassandra, she says, wanted a second opinion; Fortin got her medical records from CCMC to bring to another hospital. She told the station both she and her daughter are dubious about the side effects of chemotherapy.
"It kills the cancer, hopefully, but it also kills everything in your body," she said. "And you for the rest of your life, you may have issues, you might not have issues. But there's a good chance you're gonna have issues." Doctors have said that she has an 80% chance of surivival with treatment.
Fortin says the CCMC doctors believed her desire for a second opinion was a sign of medical neglect and reported her to the state's Department of Children and Families. According to Fortin, DCF filed a motion to gain temporary custody of Cassandra, which was granted. A judge ordered her to undergo chemo; in November, after two treatments, Fortin says, her daughter ran away. After she was found (no one has said where), she was eventually strapped to a hospital bed and a port was surgically implanted in her heart. Her phone has been taken and a guard is posted outside her room.
Fortin told FOX CT that she's had sole custody of Cassandra since divorcing her father ten years ago, and has been homeschooling her the past few years.
There's clearly a lot going on here, and the hospital is limited in what they can say in their defense. A bioethicist named Arthur Caplan wrote an essay for NBC on why Cassandra shouldn't be allowed to refuse treatment, especially given that she's not citing a religious objection to treatment.
"She is also a teenager," he writes, "a group not known for always making the best judgments. I would hope her mom would be pushing her to get chemo rather than trying to honor her emerging autonomy." He adds, "The primary goal in this case is to save a young life. This is a disease where medicine can do that. Admittedly, the treatment sucks, but it works. I hope when judges hear this case Thursday, they tell Cassandra that she needs to get the chemo."
Caplan also recommends that the girl be assigned a social worker or a counselor who she can trust, and that her doctors work on negotiating with her and building her trust, rather than simply strapping her down and forcing drugs into her. That would've been a good suggestion several months ago, but at this point, now that we've entered into the "guard outside her hospital room" stage, any chance of building trust is pretty much shot.
A public defender appointed to represent Cassandra and a private attorney appeared today before the Connecticut State Supreme Court, where they argued that she's mature enough to make reasonable medical choices for herself. The court did not agree: this afternoon, according to WTNH reporter Stephanie Simoni, they upheld the previous court's ruling that Cassandra is "not a mature minor" and can't decide to refuse treatment.
Screenshot via FOX CT