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Blurred Lines: Connecticut Teens are Mature Enough for an Abortion, but Not to Forego Chemo

Maira Alejandra

The case of a 17-year-old girl in Connecticut undergoing state-mandated chemotherapy should make us all think about the incongruity of some court decisions.

Cassandra is the main character in this story. She is 17 years old and has lived with her mother, Jackie Fortin, all her life. They have a good relationship according to Ms. Fortin, and in her 17 years alive, Connecticut's Department of Children and Families (DCF) had never had a reason to intervene on Cassandra's behalf. By state standards, Ms. Fortin, was doing a good job as a single mother.

Then, last November DCF had a sudden change of heart, taking custody of Cassandra and separating mother and daughter for the first time since the girl was born.

Why? Because Cassandra, who has Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was refusing to undergo chemotherapy to treat the deadly cancer with her mother's consent and support.

In early November, Cassandra went through two chemo sessions. Then she ran away from home for a week. Court records show she missed several doctor appointments, prompting DCF to ask a court for temporary custody of Cassandra, accusing her mom of neglect.

The court granted DCF's request, but Ms. Fortin said she was not neglecting her child, but rather standing by her daughter's right to have a say on what kind of treatment she gets. "Chemo is not the only treatment in cancer, and that's what people don't understand," she said.

 

Fortin says she has a very close relationship with her daughter that has been taken away from her through this ordeal.

“You do not separate a mother and a child when they are going through cancer. This is something that her and I were originally working on, going forward, looking for alternative treatments, whatever that might be,” she said. “I'm not gonna let my sick daughter die, and she doesn't want to die, but she should have an option, and a choice of what treatment she wants for this cancer."

Without treatment, doctors say the cancer can kill her in a matter of two years, but with treatment she has an 85 percent chance of survival. Doctors and DCF also say Cassandra shouldn't have a say in whether she goes through treatment or not because she is a minor, and therefore not mature enough to make that decision. Last week, Connecticut's Supreme Court sided with them, ordering Cassandra to continue chemo. She can stop receiving treatment when she turns 18 if she wants.

There is no doubt everyone involved has Cassandra's best interest at heart. She is only 17 years old, with the potential of a whole life ahead of her if she undergoes life-saving treatment. The doctors want to save her life, and the mom is siding with a teen she knows better than the doctors do and whom she considers mature enough to choose quality of life over quantity of life.

We get it. Doctors and the court system in Connecticut say a 17 year old is not mature enough to make a life or death decision concerning her own body, so an adult, or the system must decide for her. It's an honorable thing to save someone's life right?

However, we are a little confused here because the same system that opposes a minor rejecting life-saving treatment, given the circumstances, would allow that same minor to have an abortion without parental consent, deeming her mature enough to make a life or death decision.

While some states require a parent or legal guardian be informed 24 to 48 hours before a minor has an abortion, Connecticut doesn't. A girl Cassandra's age can easily walk into an abortion clinic and make that decision on her own with no need to inform anyone.

So the state considers a 17 year old is mature enough to decide to end another human's life (while also potentially putting hers at risk), and doesn't think it's necessary for a parent to be involved in such a life-altering decision? But that same minor is not mature enough to decide not to undergo chemo, although the latter scenario only involves her own life?

So which one is it, Connecticut? Is 17 years old mature enough for a life or death decision or not?

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