Bioethics Blogs

Honouring Makayla

Sarah Wiebe discusses the significance of culturally-sensitive care in matters of life and death

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In a video posted to YouTube, the late Makayla Sault read a letter explaining why she declined chemotherapy. In that video, she says that, “This chemo is killing my body and I cannot take it anymore.” Seeing Makayla so full of life in this video is shocking. In Regional Chief of Ontario Stan Beardy’s words, Makayla was “full of spirit and a young warrior who fought her disease on her own terms to the very end.”

My heart goes out to Makayla Sault and her family. I can only imagine how difficult this must be for all those she touched during her eleven years of life. Though I haven’t lost a child, I have held the hands of loved ones struggling to reconcile with cancer and directly witnessed the distress it poses to the mind, body, and soul. Although removed from this immediate situation, Makayla’s story compels me to reflect on and to write about the politics surrounding issues of health, life, and death in Canada.

Last year, Makayla began chemotheraphy to treat her acute lymphoblastic leukemia. After twelve weeks, her family chose to stop that treatment and pursue traditional alternatives. As the widespread media attention and public debate reveal, this action sparked much controversy about the meaning of rights: of the child, of Indigenous peoples and, to the right to choose between life and death.

The events leading up to and following Makayla’s passing raise a fundamental political question: who determines the right to let live and let die?

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.