Bioethics Blogs

Aboriginal rights and refusal of treatment in Canada

Consider:

An 11 year-old girl, J.J., is diagnosed with high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of cancer that arises in the bone marrow. She is put on a 32-day course of chemotherapy with an estimated success rate of over 90%. Her doctors don’t know of anyone who has survived this illness without such a course of treatment. However, after just 10 days, her mother withdraws her consent to J.J.’s chemotherapy in order to pursue alternative, non-western remedies. J.J. doesn’t object, but both of her doctors believe that J.J. doesn’t understand either her illness or the importance of the treatment she is on. In all matters, she defers to her mother who is also her surrogate decision maker. The hospital in which J.J. is a patient appeals to Child Services, stating that by ceasing treatment J.J.’s mother has put J.J. into the position of a child in need of protection. Such a status would permit the hospital to continue treatment despite disagreement from J.J’s mother (in her capacity as surrogate decision maker). The case goes to trial, and a ruling is made in favour of J.J.’s mother. J.J. is taken out of the hospital in order to pursue non-western treatment alternatives. It is very likely that J.J. will die.

These are the details of a case that was recently argued in the Ontario Court of Justice. There is precedent in the Canadian legal system for disregarding the express wishes of parents who are also a child’s surrogate decision maker. For example, children of Jehovah’s Witnesses will continue to receive blood transfusions despite the fact that the tenets of their parents’ faith prohibit such a procedure.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.