Bioethics Blogs

Cassandra C: Right to refuse treatment or protecting a minor*

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

In Connecticut, a 17-year-old girl is being kept in a hospital room under court order. She is restrained to her treatment bed when she is given chemotherapy that neither she nor her mother want. Cassandra C. is a young woman diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in September 2014. She underwent surgery to remove a lymph node and then chose not to receive further treatment. She left the hospital with her mother, Jackie Fortin, to allegedly seek a second opinion, out-of-state.

According to Fortin and her attorney, Cassandra believes that chemotherapy is toxic to the body and has long-term effects. She believes it destroys fertility, damages organs, and causes great harm. She may not be totally wrong. Studies of 30year-survivors show death from causes related to the treatment. For these reasons, Cassandra does not want chemotherapy. She is apparently aware that nontreatment will most likely lead to her death. Fortin supports her daughter’s decisions claiming that (at some undisclosed time in the past) Cassandra had said if she ever had cancer that she would not want chemotherapy. According to doctors, the treatment has an 80 to 95 percent rate of success and perhaps she might have those 30 years of living.

Connecticut Children’s Medical Center contacted the state Department of Children and Families (DCF). In November, DCF went to state Superior Court where doctor’s testified that Cassandra needed treatment. DCF was granted temporary custody of Cassandra and the Court ordered Fortin to cooperate with the agency. After two court-ordered chemotherapy treatments, Cassandra ran away from home and refused to return for treatment.

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.