Sunday, 5 October 2014

Young Cancer Patients' Lives In Serious Danger After Dropping Chemo For Faith-Based Traditional Medicines

McMaster University Medical Building.  from Wikimedia Commons
Only a few months ago, I wrote about 10 year old Makayla Sault who was diagnosed with leukemia. Her parents took her out of chemo because it was making her sick and substituted only traditional non-scientific medicine. Even Childrens' Aid decided not to intervene and she was returned to her parents and community to be monitored.

Very sadly, yet not surprisingly, her leukemia is back.
A Hamilton oncologist testifying at a hearing into an indigenous child who has quit chemotherapy in favour of traditional medicine says in a similar case earlier this year, another First Nation girl stopped her chemo and has now suffered a relapse.

Makayla Sault's leukemia has come back, according to testimony by McMaster Children's Hospital's Vicky Breakey. Although Breakey didn't name the patient, it's clear she was referring to Makayla. The 11-year-old girl from the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation left chemotherapy treatment at the McMaster hospital in May to pursue traditional indigenous medicine.
Without proper treatment this was bound to occur and it is sad. At the time of the chemo, she was given a 75% chance of recovery. Now that this opportunity is lost, who knows? Her parents, both Christian pastors, decided to replace -- not even supplement -- evidence-based science with unproven traditional medicine. It's extra tragic because she no doubt believed that it would work -- because kids listen to and wish to please their parents, but her parents believe in it too.
Makayla's family declined to be interviewed, but in a statement released by her band, they say she is recovering from leukemia and the effects of chemotherapy.

The statement says, "She is under the care of her family and is receiving traditional medicines to assist with her recovery."
Now there's another girl with leukemia in the very same community. She's been given a 90-95% chance of recovery if she undergoes chemo. Her mother pulled her out of this treatment after ten days. I can't publish her name here due to a publication ban.

Once again, Children's Aid has refused to intervene. So the hospital is going to court to have treatment forced. It's a really dreadful situation on all sides.
Stacey Marjerrison, the patient’s main doctor and part of the McMaster team that launched the legal case, told court on Monday the girl has between an 80 and 85 per cent chance of survival on chemotherapy. Without it, the cancer could kill her.

Marjerrison said there is a degree of urgency in getting the child back into treatment soon, as the cancer can become more difficult to treat over time.
The primary sticking point here seems to be that there is no minimum age of consent in Ontario for medical treatment. It's solely related to the patient's capacity to understand the situation. To get around this the hospital should have consulted the Consent and Capacity Board. This is a group with the power to determine whether or not the girl has enough understanding and capacity to decline necessary medical treatment. They would presumably speak with her to make an assessment.

You think this very same hospital would have learned from Makayla's case.
Brant County Children's Aid director Andrew Koster says a request to separate an aboriginal girl with cancer from her family so she could resume chemotherapy in Hamilton should never have come before his agency

Testifying in a court challenge mounted by McMaster Children's Hospital after it learned the agency would not apprehend the child, he said the hospital should have taken the case to the province's Consent and Capacity Board, which assesses a patient's ability to make decisions about his or her treatment.

He also said the removal of the child would not have been simple or easy.
A lawyer representing Children's Aid, Mark Handelman, questioned the girl's primary physician about whether or not the child appeared to truly lack capacity -- and thus consent -- or if she merely interpreted the girl's silence this way.
Marjerrison described a quiet child, who would say she understood what was going on but almost never ask questions about treatment, deferring all hard choices to her parents.

Handelman asked twice during the testimony if Marjerrison was interpreting the patient’s silence as lack of capacity, something the doctor denied.
Meanwhile, her mother has released this statement dismissing all of the proceedings.
“As a member of the Six Nations Confederacy I will not have my decisions of health care for my child debated and judged in the Canadian judicial system.… The Canadian judicial system does not have the authority to determine our law or practices, which predates the existence of Canada, valid or otherwise.”
She's instead decided to bring her child to the Hippocrates Health Institute in the United States. As far as I can tell, she is still down there. So it's unknown what effect any of the court deliberations will actually have on the girl, being out of country.
“They [Children's Aid] investigated and reported they didn't have a protection issue with my decision as I had a comprehensive health-care plan. We would not make a choice that would compromise her health or life. There is enough case evidence behind Onkwehonwe medicine and the practices at [the Hippocrates Health Institute​] that we know we have made the right choice.”
“I decided to treat her cancer with our traditional medicines from our ancient indigenous knowledge coupled with the practices of nutrition as medicine, plant-based supplements along with other therapies,” her mother wrote.
These alternative therapies have not been shown to treat cancer. Children have suffered and died when parents drop standard medicine for alternative faith-based treatments.

A letter from the girl herself was also released. It tells the story from her perspective.
She wrote, “I don't want medicine they were giving me in the hospital. It made me really really sick. [It] hurt my belly for lots of days and my hair fell out. I know now that all those things happened to me because poison was being put in my body. Me and my mom cried a lot.”
It's the undeniable truth that she is suffering and the chemo is making her sick -- it is terrible poison. However, chemo appears to be the only scientifically backed evidence-based treatment that can help this girl. There is a apparently a 90-95% chance of recovery. Left untreated, things will move from bad to much worse. The cancer will kill her after much suffering. With odds of survival that high, why would any parent refuse unless they have a deep-seated mistrust of standard medicine.

Dr. Peter Fitzgerald, president of McMaster Children's Hospital said:
"This child has a life-threatening illness [and] without standard treatment will not survive, so our sole focus is trying to bring this child into treatment so we have an opportunity to provide her with a long healthy life."
I agree with this.  I hope that this Consent and Capacity Board can talk to this child and come to a well-informed decision. It's not a perfect solution to this complicated and horrible situation, but it's the best that can be done when a child's life is on the line.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog