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Legal Battle on a 17-year-old’s Right to Choose Treatment

This story of a 17-year-old girl in Connecticut strikes my heart as I am also the mother of a teenager who had cancer. There will be no winners in this legal battle as the teen and her mother are going through a tug of war while also being beaten by a terrible fiend called cancer. The hospital and doctors are going to carry some bruises and a rep for overstepping their power. Let me offer some thoughts:

The decision to accept treatment, continue the treatment, change the treatment and stop the treatment of cancer is PERSONAL. When someone is diagnosed with cancer, every case is different. Factors that impact the percentages of remission are many. It is important to know what statistics there are but the mental, physical and spiritual condition of each person must be taken into consideration. In the case of this teen, I must wonder if anyone took the time to listen to her and inquire about what was her understanding of chemotherapy and what was her knowledge of other people going through it.

A 17-year-old is considered an adult in most legal cases, ie murder, theft etc. Many teens who are accused in felony cases are tried as adults with the logical thinking that at 17 a person knows the difference between right and wrong. Why not in this case? When someone is diagnosed with cancer, at the moment they hear that pronouncement, they are looking Death in the face. No matter the statistics or encouraging words, cancer is a life-threatening disease. Does a 17-year-old not have the right to choose? As with any adult, it is important to communicate the consequences of her/his various choices, including: Option A – Chemotherapy: “This means you will devote the next 12 months to fighting this disease with us. We are here to support you. The chances of you winning this fight are ______.” Option B – No Treatment: “This means you will get progressively weaker. You may have problems with bleeding and breathing. You may live _________ months.”

In my personal situation, my son did a year of treatment for a disease that had only a 25% chance of remission. He was only 12-years-old at the time. He beat the cancer back for two years. It reoccurred. He made the decision not to have any more chemotherapy. He made that decision after a conversation about what was available and the percentage for any remission. A wonderful surgeon suggested a new technique and my son agreed to that and had another two years. In all he had five years more and he lived them in basketball and marching band. And when the cancer came back the third time, he made the most of that time, too, teaching the rest of us about courage.

Some people thought (and weren’t shy to share) I should make all the decisions and never give up on any possibility. As I looked in my son’s eyes, I knew that he probably knew more about life and death than I did. It was his reality.

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