Litigation

Teenage Girl Ordered to Undergo Chemotherapy Treatment

 

Pathological tests showed conclusively that Cassandra, a seventeen-year-old girl, was suffering from Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer that was invariably fatal if not treated, but that had a high probability of cure if treated in a timely manner. Interrupting chemotherapy treatment of the disease could lead to resistance of the cancer to treatment. Furthermore, delaying chemotherapy treatment might increase the risk of a poor outcome and might require radiation treatment, which had increased risks of harmful side effects, especially for young women. When the Department of Children and Families became concerned that Cassandra’s mother was not following through in a timely manner to obtain treatment for Cassandra's life-threatening illness, the Commissioner of Children and Families sought an ex parte order of temporary custody of Cassandra. A lower court determined that treatment for Cassandra was required, that the Department was to have temporary custody of Cassandra, and that Michael  Isakoff, a pediatric oncologist, was to  serve as Cassandra's treating physician. 

Cassandra underwent her first two chemotherapy treatments. However, she told Isakoff that she was adamant that she would not return for further chemotherapy. She stated that she did not feel sick and that when she started to feel sick she might reconsider her decision, but that she would not be treated at the medical center because she did not trust the physicians there. Cassandra further did not want to undergo chemotherapy because she was afraid of seeing tubes sticking out of her body. Isakoff told Cassandra that there was a danger that the cancer would become resistant if she interrupted the chemotherapy treatment and that the chemotherapy treatment provided Cassandra with her only chance of survival. However, Cassandra ran away from home before her third scheduled chemotherapy treatment. When Cassandra returned home a week later, a trial court ordered that Cassandra remain in the custody of the Department, that she be removed from her home, and that the Department make medical treatment decisions for her. 

Cassandra argued before the Supreme Court of Connecticut that, under the mature minor doctrine, she was competent to make her own decisions regarding medical treatment and, therefore, could decline the chemotherapy treatment if she chose that decision. However, the court did not consider the mature minor doctrine because the court concluded that the record supported the trial judge's finding that Cassandra was not a mature seventeen-year-old girl, and, therefore, was not competent to refuse a course of medical treatment that would provide her with her only chance of survival. Furthermore, Cassandra’s constitutional rights were not violated in the proceedings below.

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For more detailed reading on the lawsuit, see In re Cassandra C., 316 Conn. 476 (Conn. 2015) Lexis Advance subscribers can access the opinion at this link: In re Cassandra C., 316 Conn. 476, 2015 Conn. LEXIS 97 (Conn. 2015).

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