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Teen refuses cancer treatment - court orders him to submit

Moms View Message Board: The Kitchen Table (Debating Board): Teen refuses cancer treatment - court orders him to submit
By Ginny~moderator on Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - 06:34 am:

This has been in the news the past few days, and here is a summary from ABC news:


I don't know how I feel about this. What do you think?

By Karen~admin on Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - 07:46 am:

Just a few short years ago I would have had a very definite opinion about this. But after seeing my mom through 2 courses of radiation and 2 courses of chemotherapy, and after having some very honest talks with my kids in that span, I am really not sure how I feel about it either.

Part of me agrees with the physician who said that "Teenagers don't really have the full capacity to understand the broader picture", but the other part of me feels that a 15 or 16 y/o should have the right to decide if they want to endure those treatments. I have read a number of things written by, and about teenagers who underwent cancer treatments, some which helped, and some which didn't, and honestly, *I* have to respect their choice as to whether or not to go through conventional treatments.

Don't you think a 15 y/o should be given enough credit for understanding and comprehending what his disease is, and for being able to learn everything he can about it? In the internet age, the mounds of information available is stifling, and it occurs to me that a teenager might have more time to research their illness, treatments and alternative therapies than I certainly would, being that I am at work 9 hours a day.

Though, as a parent, it would be hard to let your child make that decision regarding their health and the treatment they receive. Most of us have been taught to seek and trust the opinions of medical professionals and do what they advise. But how many of us have been encouraged to step outside that box and try *unconventional medicine*?

I really don't know where I stand on this one...........

By Crystal915 on Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - 07:53 am:

I know that in NJ you are able to decide your own medical treatment at 16. I don't think this young man should be forced to go through a painful, traumatizing treatment if he doesn't want to. I think most 16 year olds are capable of understanding the ramifications well enough to decide for themselves.

By Zoie on Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - 08:48 am:

If the teens didn't want to go through treatments, and their parents disagreed and felt they should, that might be a stickier issue. But in both cases mentioned in the article, the parents supported the teen's decision and had to fight WITH them legally against the doctors. I am shocked this is even an issue. Regardless of whether the teenagers are or aren't capable of making their own decisions about such things, their parents certainly are! It concerns me that if these sorts of battles are lost by the family, what else will the government start mandating for children against their parents' wishes? There's a place for the government to step in when a child is truly being abused or neglected, but these cases do not fit that category, and I believe it's the parents' right to choose alternative treatments for their children if they feel that is what is best for their child. It obviously was for Billy Best who is cancer-free years later...

By Ginny~moderator on Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - 09:06 am:

Zoie, I still don't know how I feel about this teen, but I disagree with you about parents controlling their children's medical decisions in general - and there are plenty of court decisions on that. Parents who are, for example, 7th Day Adventists (who won't accept transfusions) or Christian Scientists (who won't accept most medical treatment) don't have the right to make that decision for their minor children when the decision risks life or serious health problems. I believe that very strongly, because in the cases where courts have ruled, the parents have not consulted the child or the child is too young to comprehend or make decisions.

But in this particular case, this is a 15-16 year old, who has been through one round of chemo, and has decided that he doesn't want to go through it again. His parents are supporting him, and as I understand this case, would also support him if he elected to have the chemo. In my opinion, that is a very different matter.

By Hlgmom on Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - 11:10 am:

I think it is rather absurd that a doctor can decide what anyone HAS to do in terms of their medical treatment. I think it is 100% that 16 yr olds decision to choose his own medical/ alternative treatment, and certainly when it has been decided as a family.
To dismiss an alternative treatment (which obviously worked) is simply arrogant. Too often docs think that it is their way or the highway-assuming that know best all the time- certainly not the case!!
I also find it a bit presumptious to say that a 16yo may not understand this decision. I feel pretty confident that at 16 I could have made an intelligent decision- and certainly in this day and age with internet access etc, as I think someone mentioned before.
At some point we all have to realize that doctors are just regular people who have a medical degree- they do not have all the answers and the ones who think they do are just plain dangerous.

By Karen~admin on Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - 12:55 pm:

"To dismiss an alternative treatment (which obviously worked) is simply arrogant. Too often docs think that it is their way or the highway-assuming that know best all the time- certainly not the case!!

I also find it a bit presumptious to say that a 16yo may not understand this decision. I feel pretty confident that at 16 I could have made an intelligent decision- and certainly in this day and age with internet access etc, as I think someone mentioned before."

Heather, I tend to mostly agree with what you said, particularly about doctors. Most people in my generation were raised to put total trust in doctors and follow their advice/suggestion/orders without question. My dad was a heart/lung specialist, and I shudder to think of what his reaction would have been if someone would have questioned his methods of treatment. I agree 100% with your last sentence At some point we all have to realize that doctors are just regular people who have a medical degree- they do not have all the answers and the ones who think they do are just plain dangerous." I don't put blind faith into what my or my kids' doctors tell me, and have taught my kids to question them as well, if for no other reason than to be absolutely sure you understand what they are telling you.

That said, they are just like anyone else in their field - some know more than others, some give *rubber stamp* treatment, most don't like to have their authority questioned, and most certainly don't want to discuss alternative medicine. And the reasons behind that could start a whole new debate - as in feeding the medical cash cow in this country. But I won't even go there right now, because that is not the issue here.

Doctors/medical professionals aside, by the same token, some 16 y/olds are capable of making informed decisions, some probably are not. Some parents are able to accept those decisions, some will not be willing to give up the control of deciding what is best for their child.

I think it probably should be decided based on each individual family/case/illness, taking all things into consideration, including diagnosis, prognosis, conventional medical treatments available, alternative treatments available, and certainly not least, the wishes of the patient/family involved. I DON'T feel that outside parties have the right to legally force someone to receive medical treatment.

There is a lot to be said for wanting to live your life as *pleasantly* as possible, particularly when the *cure* is often worse than the disease.

Would I allow a 6 or 8 y/o to decide for themselves what course their treatment should follow? In a word, NO. But I lean more towards believing that a teenager should be included in their own treatment plan, and honestly, if they were basing their decision on being completely informed and educated about their illness and their options, then I feel their wishes should, if not dictate the decision, then certainly play a major role in reaching the decision.

By Crystal915 on Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - 01:24 pm:

I think the big issue here has already been addressed... if this were an 18 year old, he could refuse treatment. Since his parents are his guardians, they should be able to refuse treatment for him, since they support his choice. We're not talking a child who is unable to speak for himself. Think about it in other court cases, like custody battles. At about 12, the child is given the opportunity to voice their opinion on the case. Why is someone who is almost an adult, with parents supporting his decision, being FORCED to receive treatment?? This is America, we're supposed to have rights.

By Tarable on Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - 02:33 pm:

I just have one question/thought. If they are doing this for children are they going to start forcing adults those of us over 18 who might get something like this and decided that we don't want any more chemo or whatever to continue with treatment? I mean who is to say that we are in the right emotional state or whatever to make a decision like that? I just worry that if a dr (with the courts help) is able to make a child and his/her parents follow a certian plan of treatment that my right to choose what direction I want to go with treatment would be able to be taken away also.
I totally agree with Ginny that in some cases that there has to be intervention when the child is too young to speak for themselves or there is actual neglect because of a religion or something like that and the child can be saved from something then the gov should intervene, but will they actually draw the line at children or will they end up saying that adults have no choice if the dr thinks they are making a bad decision?
Just a question that came up when I was reading all of your posts.

By Karen~admin on Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - 07:25 pm:

That's a question that chills me to the core. Definitely something to think about.

By Ginny~moderator on Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - 08:44 pm:

According to FOX news, a circuit court judge lifted the order which (1) ordered the boy to have chemo and (2) ordered the parents to share custody with social services officials. The original order was issued by a juvenile/family court judge at the petition of a social worker. A trial date is set for mid-August. What hasn't been made clear so far is how the social worker got involved. Did the doctors or hospital start this process, or what?

I don't know enough to make a sound judgment, but so far it sounds to me like this kid knows what he is doing and what the options are, and I think social services and the courts should butt out. Do I think the boy is risking death from Hodkin's Disease? Yes. But the first round of chemo didn't work. I lost two friends to Hodgkins, both of whom went the whole chemo route. Is the "alternative therapy" the boy wants reasonably sound and with a track record - I have absolutely no idea. And I have absolutely no idea what I would do if it was my kid.

Oh, and, by the way, if you suddenly wind up in the ER without a health care power of attorney naming a surrogate decision maker already in place, you might find doctors making decisions for you. More than one doctor has ignored or deliberately chosen to violate DNR orders - and been sued for it.

By Karen~admin on Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - 09:41 pm:

DH and I have those in place, each with a *contingent* decision maker as well.

By Dawnk777 on Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - 11:07 pm:

I thought patients had a right to refuse treatment. I think at 16, he understands the ramifications of that decision.

By Ginny~moderator on Wednesday, July 26, 2006 - 08:37 pm:

Adult patients who are deemed "competent" have the right to refuse treatment. Not adult - then either the parents or the doctors make the decision. Not "competent" - which is usually a legal decision made by a judge - means the nearest relative or court appointed guardian or the doctors make the decisions.

By Bellajoe on Thursday, July 27, 2006 - 08:44 am:

It is wrong that hte Drs. are making decisions for the patient. It is wrong that they saw those parents as unfit and that they now have to share custody of a 16 yr old with social services just because the parents were trying to help their very sick child. It should be the families choice whether or not the boy gets chemo/radiation or not.
My father was sick with cancer that metastisized (sp?) all over his body. I was 12-13 yrs old and i remember him the nights after he had his treatment. He was so so sick. He was vomiting, shivering and had very very high fevers. It was awful, he went through all that and he still died. If the boy doesn't want to go thru that again, then he shouldn't have to. He is 16, he knows what death is. he also knows what that treatments do to him.
This whole thing is absurd.

By Reds9298 on Thursday, July 27, 2006 - 09:26 am:

Ditto Bellajoe. You said it better than I would!

By Dawnk777 on Thursday, July 27, 2006 - 06:59 pm:

Ditto, Bellajoe!

By Ginny~moderator on Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - 07:49 pm:

Here's a report on the resolution of this case, which was supposed to go to trial today.

"Under the settlement, reached on the day the dispute was scheduled to go to trial, Abraham will be permitted to see a new oncologist who uses alternative therapies emphasizing nutrition, said John Stepanovich, an attorney for the family. Abraham may be treated with radiation but will also continue the therapy from Mexico that triggered the dispute."

Here's the entire article in the Washington Post:

By Marcia on Thursday, August 17, 2006 - 09:46 am:

I saw this on CNN. I'm so happy that they made this decision.

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