The Chemo Forced On Cassandra, A Connecticut Teenager, Was Just Approved By The State's Highest Court

On Thursday, the state's highest court ruled that Connecticut can continue forcing a teenager to undergo chemotherapy treatments that could potentially save her life. The court unanimously affirmed with the trial court ruling that the girl, known as Cassandra C. in court papers, may face state intervention for her care, should she refuse to undergo treatment.

Cassandra, who at 17 is deemed a minor, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in September. Medical experts have testified that Cassandra has an 85 percent chance of survival if treated with chemotherapy, reported CNN, but could likely die within two years if she refuses the treatment, which she has called "poison" to her body.

The court order specified that her attorneys failed to prove that she was mature enough to make informed medical decisions. It read:

This court agrees with the trial court that, even assuming that the mature minor doctrine applies in this state, the respondents have failed to meet their burden of proving under any standard that Cassandra was a mature minor and capable of acting independently concerning her life threatening medical condition.

Which basically means that Cassandra will have to extend her stay at Hartford hospital and carry out the full course of her chemotherapy treatment, despite her strong opposition. The case calls to mind Brittany Maynard, who was terminally ill with brain cancer, and whose decision to end her life in November under Oregon's "Death with Dignity Act" sparked controversy. The two cases undoubtedly have its differences, but they both circle around the debate of whether a person has the right to choose to live — or die.

Visiting her at the hospital after the court's decision, Cassandra's attorney Josh Michtom said:

She's disappointed and she's frustrated that she's in this one room, and she can't leave.

The court ruling was based on Cassandra's reneging on her statement under oath that she would undergo treatment back in November, after she ran away and missed her chemotherapy appointments. This, said the court, indicated that she lacked maturity, CNN reported.

Prior to the court ruling, Cassandra had been undergoing cancer treatment against her wishes for the past month, after she was removed from her home for turning it down and placed in the custody of child welfare authorities. The Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) was granted temporary custody of Cassandra, as well as the authority to make medical decisions for her by a lower court, following doctors reporting her mother, Jackie Fortin, for neglect.

But Fortin told NPR that it was Cassandra's right to refuse treatment:

This is not about death. My daughter is not going to die. This is about, "This is my body, my choice, and let me decide."

Cassandra is eight months shy of 18, when she will be legally considered an adult and be able to decide if she wants to continue chemotherapy without the state's interference. But her attorneys argued that maturity doesn't merely hit at a certain age, NPR reported.

Child welfare agencies defended Cassandra's forced chemotherapy, arguing that they were responsible for protecting the teenager's life. In a deeply personal Op-Ed in the Hartford Courant, Cassandra detailed her struggle with the state, accusing them of vilifying Fortin and violating her rights:

My mom has been identified as "hostile," "neglectful" and "unsupportive," three untrue words that break my heart...
This experience has been a continuous nightmare. I want the right to make my medical decisions. It's disgusting that I'm fighting for a right that I and anyone in my situation should already have. This is my life and my body, not DCF's and not the state's. I am a human — I should be able to decide if I do or don't want chemotherapy. Whether I live 17 years or 100 years should not be anyone's choice but mine.
How long is a person actually supposed to live, and why? Who determines that? I care about the quality of my life, not just the quantity.

Image: CNN/Screenshot (4)