In one of the most stunning examples of government interference in the last few years, the Canadian Government and the Children’s Aid Society has seized an eleven-year old boy from his parents. They have taken custody because the parents support the boys decision not to take chemotherapy for his leukemia.
The Globe and Mail has some good coverage on the issue itself. The decision to take custody of the child is not unusual in Canada. The most famous example is in the case of R. v. Children’s Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto. In this case, the parents of an infant were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and decided not to allow their infant to receive a blood transfusion because it was against their religious beliefs. The Children’s Aid Society seized custody, administered the transfusion, and gave custody back to the parents. This was decided because the child was not yet old enough to make a decision about their religious beliefs, so the best interests of the child trump the parents right to practice their religion. Without the transfusion the child would have died.
The same type of logic is being applied in the case at hand. The government is arguing that the child is not old enough to understand the consequences of rejecting chemotherapy. Although it is nearly certain that he will die without the chemotherapy, the sheer fact that the boy had chosen not to undergo it makes this seem pretty unreal. That the government would go ahead and force someone to accept treatment they don’t want is unbelievable.
Understandably there is some concern that the boy doesn’t quite understand what he is doing. However, this is the second round of treatment. He had one round of chemo that put his leukemia into remission for a year, but now it has come back. So I think it’s safe to say he understands what chemo will do to him, and what the consequences of not taking it will do. He had elected to pursue a set of more natural remedies. The major concern for the boy is twofold: he is mildly developmentally delayed as a result of fetal alcohol syndrome, and he is apparently on some medications for behavioural problems. Be that as it may, I still think that an 11 year old has to be of enough sound mind to make certain decisions for himself.
His family is doing their best to support their son’s wishes, but have been treated like criminals because of it. The father was forcibly removed from the hospital in handcuffs because he got angry when his kind was seized. I think any father in his right mind, let alone one who is watching his son make a tough decision, would react the same way.
I think my biggest problem with this is the government really stepping in and forcing the child to take chemo against his will. At least they should listen to his reasons why he chose not to take it before forcing the treatment on him. He says it will affect his quality of life and lower it (which it undoubtedly will). He also says he would rather just enjoy his time with his family. It’s a remarkably mature judgment for an eleven year old to make, granted, but that does not necessarily mean he ‘doesn’t get it’. Perhaps he’s just wise beyond his years.