Court Says Almost-Adult Girl Not Adult Enough to Refuse Chemo

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Photo: NBC Connecticut

A 17-year-old will not be allowed to stop chemotherapy treatments for her Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, the Connecticut supreme court ruled Thursday. Cassandra C. has tried to refuse this treatment because she believes it is “poison” and appealed to be ruled a “mature minor” by the court. Instead, it upheld a lower court ruling saying that she must get the treatments and left the teen in the state’s custody.

A “mature minor” designation would allow Cassandra to make her own medical choices, and would mean that the court recognizes that she understands the consequences of her decisions. The girl, identified in a missing persons report as Cassandra Callender, ran away after some forced treatments and was even removed from mother Jackie Fortin’s home after state welfare agencies became concerned about her cancer prognosis. The mother supports her choices.

We thank the Connecticut Supreme Court for its extremely prompt decision, which will allow us to continue to provide the medical treatment that will save Cassandra’s life,” the Department of Children and Family services said in a statement. “This is a curable illness, and we will continue to ensure that Cassandra receives the treatment she needs to become a healthy and happy adult.”

Refusing chemotherapy was a bold gamble on Cassandra’s part: Hodgkin’s Lymphoma has a high survival rate for young chemotherapy patients — about 80 percent, doctors say — and her prognosis looks much worse without it. Her valid concerns, like potential organ damage and infertility down the line, won’t matter in the long run if she’s not around to experience them.

But Cassandra is also just months away from being able to make her own decisions about life and death, and courts have previously recognized the right of minors to make life-and-death choices in cases concerning religious liberty. Her attorney, a public defender named Joshua Michtom, made that point simply. “[17-year-olds] can consent to sex with someone who’s near an age to them. They can get contraception. They can get addiction treatment. They can donate blood. They can be tried as adults for certain crimes,” he told NBC News. “So there’s recognition overall that maturity doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t go to sleep a 17-year-old knucklehead and wake up an 18-year-old sage.”