The state did not violate a 17-year-old girl’s rights by forcing her to undergo chemotherapy treatment for cancer, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Thursday from the bench.
The case stems from a complaint by a teen, known as Cassandra, who attempted to fight a decision by the Department of Children and Families to force her to accept treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma, a treatable disease that likely will kill her without medication.
Her mother, Jackie Fortin, accepts the teen’s decision to forgo treatment and appeared in court Thursday with lawyers who argued that Cassandra is a mature youth and should be given an opportunity to make her own medical decisions.
They wanted the court to recognize a legal premise accepted in some other states called the “mature minor doctrine,” and asked justices for the chance to present evidence that Cassandra was competent to make her own healthcare decisions.
The court sided quickly with DCF, taking just 15 minutes after the conclusion of oral arguments Thursday to uphold a lower court ruling allowing the state to control the girl’s treatment.
Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers said the girl and her mother had opportunities during earlier court hearings to argue that Cassandra should be considered mature enough to make her own decisions, but they had not.
Even if they had, the court agreed with the lower court and attorneys for DCF, who said that Cassandra behaved in an immature fashion when she told another judge she would accept treatment and then ran away from home. They did not rule on whether the “mature minor doctrine” applied in Connecticut.
“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,” Rogers said.
During arguments, Assistant Attorney General John Tucker said that Cassandra’s mother had been the primary decision maker when it came to the teen’s treatment. He said the mother had displayed “magical thinking” in previous court hearings, saying that Cassandra “felt fine now” and would perhaps seek treatment, if she felt sick in the future. He said that kind of delay could have damaged the girl’s chances of survival.
“The department was, under the facts of this case, duty bound to go in and ask for medical decision making power so they could be the adult in the room and get this child the life-saving treatment that she desperately requires,” Tucker said.
Speaking to reporters after the ruling, Fortin said she and her daughter were never given the opportunity to explore treatment options other than chemotherapy. She said she considered chemotherapy to be “poison.”
“My daughter has made a decision that she does not want chemicals — poison put into her body. Does that mean she wants to die? Absolutely not. Does that mean I’m going to let her die? Absolutely not. We have choices,” she said.
Joshua Michtom, a public defender representing Cassandra, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the court’s ruling.
“Our client really thought that this was a case where Cassandra did understand the issues, where she was able to make a choice for herself, where her mother was supporting that choice but . . . new questions of law are hard,” he said. “We’ll probably see more of this issue in this state.”
The Department of Children and Families released a statement Thursday thanking the court for acting quickly.
“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,” the DCF statement read.
Cassandra is expected to continue treatment for about six months. She will turn 18 in September.