by Amy Bloom, Bioethics Program faculty
I have been reading the latest news regarding Cassandra C., the teen with Hodgkin’s lymphoma who refused treatment but was forced into receiving it by a Connecticut Supreme Court ruling. As a mother and a bioethicist, these are the times when reconciling my personal opinions with my professional experience can be most challenging. Many of my “mom” friends were shocked and horrified by the image of a young woman being restrained to a bed, forced to undergo treatment. They had visions of a screaming pained girl, a mother helpless to save her child, and “big brother” dispensing poison to an innocent girl whirled through our collective mind.
From an ethics standpoint, it is generally wrong to force medical treatment on anyone, particularly when there are cultural and religious factors to be taken into consideration. I am reminded of cases involving Christian Scientists who believe that any “traditional” medical intervention is contrary to their cultural and religious views. Oftentimes, in cases involving a seriously ill child, parental rights are legally overruled and children are “forced” into treatment. Sometimes, the state may assume its parens patriae rights and substitute its own control over children when the natural parents appear unable or unwilling to meet their responsibilities, or when the child poses a problem for the community. Further still, the state can mandate treatment in order to assure proper care, as established by Jacobson v. Massachusetts in which the US Supreme Court upheld compulsory vaccination laws.
So, on the one hand we argue it is unethical to force 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.