|Brampton, Ontario Superior Court of Justice. (source)|
(A publication ban prevents me from writing this girl's name.)
McMaster Hospital has taken the family to court in the hopes of forcing them to resume the girl's treatment. The case is being heard with the family in absentia. The family have brought the girl to a treatment centre in Florida that specializes in traditional medicine (read: non-evidence-based alternative medicine).
Well, there are some interesting statements coming from the court case, which could very well set a legal precedent here in Canada -- even for children who are not First Nations.
“Some of these issues will apply to other contexts, for example, Jehovah`s Witness children and others. We've had quite a few cases in Canada where parents and doctors have disagreed about treatment of children in a range of situations.Of course they are often correct! This is because the doctors are working within evidence-based medical science. Why shouldn't this go without saying? That's what's disturbing.
“The unfortunate history is when doctors have predicted death, it turns out that they're often correct, and that is probably going to influence how the courts view this as well.”
The judge involved in the case asked what right he had to impose his worldview -- standard medicine -- on a First Nations family.
"Yes, we accept your culture, but when it gets serious, not so much," he said, attempting to characterize that approach.The question is whether or not this respect for First Nations should extend to allowing them to not provide their children with effective healthcare resulting in harm and likely death. It is a fact that these traditional medicines have not been found to be effective treatments for leukemia.
So, on the one hand we have basic respect of the parents' rights and treaties that go back centuries and on the other we have the safety of a minor and what should be a clear trajectory into being consumed by a deadly illness.
I can understand wanting to honor the family and the need to honor existing laws and treaties -- if it's a treaty or a law then Canada is bound to follow it. However, I am still left questioning whether or not the judge properly sees the peril this child is in and recognizes that traditional medicine is not an effective and even viable alternative treatment.
McMaster's lawyer, Daphne Jarvis, tried to point this out.
"We know of no child who has survived without chemotherapy," said Daphne Jarvis. "We know there is another child with (acute lymphoblastic leukemia) who has abandoned chemotherapy for traditional medicine and she has relapsed."(This is Makayla Sault.)
Jarvis pointed out that in the last month court has heard no evidence of any child with leukemia saved by traditional medicine.Hence this rather dangerous sounding potential precedent here. There was no evidence given by the girl's lawyers that traditional medicine can cure leukemia. There is no evidence that any treatment other than chemo has helped any child. In fact, Daphne Jarvis even pointed out that another girl, in the same tribe, with the same condition, who gave up chemo has once again become sick with leukemia.
"Are we supposed to wait and see what happens with these children?" she asked. "The need for treatment is now."
She said the CAS should have acted immediately on Aug. 29 when the hospital went to the agency with its concerns about the girl, who cannot be identified because of a publication ban.
"The evidence is every day counts," she said. And chances of success drop when chemotherapy is stopped and restarted.
Jarvis said past court decisions regarding the inability of kids to refuse life-saving treatment is so clear, "We should not have to be arguing this again."
"There is no case in Canada where the wishes of a young person have been followed to allow them to make a decision that leads to their death," she said.
Speaking for Mac, Daphne Jarvis said she would have expected some evidence to the efficacy of traditional medicine at this hearing, but there was none. Doctors who treated this girl testified to a 95% cure rate with chemotherapy and they have no evidence of a child surviving leukemia without chemo. And that in a similar case, believed to be Makayla Sault who also stopped chemo, the patient has relapsed. Also that the CAS did not communicate with Doctor’s Vicky Breaky on the left and Stacy Marjerisson in the centre before deciding not to intervene. Afterwards, Mark Handlemen, the lawyer representing the CAS, was asked about the perceived lack of communication.Have we come to the point now that traditional, non-evidence-based medicine is on equal footing to standard medicine with proven results? What could this spell for the future?