A judge in Minnesota just ruled that a 13-year-old boy must undergo chemotherapy.
The boy, who has Hodgkin's lymphoma, and his parents have been refusing chemotherapy on the grounds that it conflicts with their religious beliefs. According to one article, though, the boy did have one chemotherapy treatment and refused additional treatments after suffering untoward side effects.
This case troubles me on so many levels. Should a boy die because he parents refuse treatment? Should a child be forced to endure a medical treatment that is, at best, unpleasant, and, at worst, harmful?
The judge ruled for treatment because "overwhelming evidence" suggests that the boy will live with treatment, but die without it.
Yes, but...Is any decision ever that easy? What it he lives, but suffers side effects that destroy his quality of life? Potential long-term side effects include infertility, heart disease, lung damage and the tiny but very real possibility of developing a second cancer in the future. Should it be up to a judge to make that decision for a boy and his family?
What troubles me most about this case, I think, is that it illustrates how hard it is to die in this country. I'm not saying the boy has a death wish, and I'm not saying that his parents wish to hasten his death. I am, however, saying that years ago, they wouldn't have had a choice.
Today, though, numerous "medical miracles" help keep death at bay. Chemotherapy holds off cancer. Kidney transplants bring new life to ailing bodies. Medication stimulates blood flow.
But I'll let you in on a little secret: we all die sometime anyway. All the treatments, all the options -- sooner or later, the body will go anyway. So what right do we, as a society, have to tell anyone how long to hang on? Who are we to say, "you must undergo this treatment, as unpleasant as it may be, because it will help you live longer?" What's wrong with letting nature take its course?
I understand the complexities involved when the patient in question is a minor. The issue, of course, is whether the minor fully understands what's going on, or whether the child is left to die because of his parents' beliefs.
And yet...something about this just doesn't feel right.