Court rules on girl’s cancer treatment
A Canadian judge has ruled in favour of a Mohawk family who demanded that their 11-year-old cancer-stricken daughter be removed from hospital and be treated instead with traditional native remedies.
According to this report, doctors said her kind of leukemia has a 90 percent cure rate with modern treatment, but is an almost certain death sentence without it.
But Ontario Judge Edward ruled traditional health care is an integral part of the family’s Mohawk culture and therefore protected by the Constitution.
Edward said that evidence showed the girl’s mother from the Six Nations reserve is:
Deeply committed to her longhouse beliefs and her belief that traditional medicines work.
The judge did not address the fact that the girl’s parents also took her to a private Florida clinic run by a non-native businessman whose only licence is reportedly for providing massages – but who claims he can treat cancer.
As well as receiving unspecified aboriginal remedies, the girl travelled to the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida for other alternative treatments.
According to a CBC report, the institute provided cold laser therapy, vitamin C injections and a strict raw food diet as part of a service that cost $18,000.
McMaster Children’s Hospital offered a muted response to the decision, without indicating whether it planned to appeal. It said in a statement:
We have always supported this family’s decision to use traditional aboriginal healing practices in conjunction with conventional medical treatment. We remain committed to support this child’s treatment with compassion and respect.
Juliet Guichon, a University of Calgary bio-ethicist, was more blunt, saying the case seems no different than those where the courts have that ruled a religious belief – like that of Jehovah’s Witnesses – is no justification for denying a child needed treatment.
The real issue is not whether the mother has a treaty right to practise traditional medicine but whether the child has a right to life and to medical decision-making that can help her live. How does ‘traditional aboriginal medicine’ mean taking a child by motored vehicle to a white man in Florida, who has no apparent medical qualifications and recommends eating raw vegetables to cure leukemia?
According to this report, a recent study found that Aboriginal children who contract cancer are much more likely to die than non-native young people. Just under two thirds of native children survived for at least five years after a cancer diagnosis, compared to almost 80 percent of others.
The girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, began chemotherapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia in late August but was pulled out after 10 days. She and her parents saying the hospital was putting “poison” in her body.
The decision was welcomed by Ava Hill, elected chief of Six Nations band:
This is monumental for our people right across the country, and we’re going to get the news out right away. We were the first people here, we looked after ourselves, we had our traditional medicines. We looked after your ancestors when they arrived here, and what medicines do you think we used?
The hospital turned to Brant Child and Family Services after the girl quit chemo, but the agency refused to intervene, noting she has loving parents and arguing it was a matter of health-care consent, not child protection. The hospital then took the agency to court, leading to several days of hearings.