Girl Fights Connecticut Over Right to Refuse Chemo

Cassandra's chance of survival put at 80%-85% with treatment
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 6, 2015 6:31 AM CST
State, Girl With Cancer Fight Over Right to Refuse Chemo
Cassandra ran away from the medical center after receiving two chemo treatments.   (Courtesy of Jackie Fortin)

After 17-year-old Cassandra was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in September, she underwent two chemotherapy treatments in November at Connecticut Children's Medical Center before running away from home because she didn't want to complete the prescribed chemo. Now Cassandra is in the middle of a legal battle headed this week for the state Supreme Court. At issue is whether the decision is hers to make: She's been taken from her mother (who says she supports but isn't swaying her daughter's decision) and placed in the temporary custody of the state, which has forced her to undergo chemo for the past three weeks, reports ABC News. The Department of Children and Families said it was obligated to act when "several physicians involved in this case tell us with certainty that a child will die as a result of leaving a decision up to a parent."

Cassandra's lawyer argues that the issue isn't whether the girl's life is at risk—doctors say the prognosis is bad without treatment and that she'll have an 80% to 85% chance of surviving with chemo—but rather whether she should be considered a "mature minor" and allowed to reject medical treatment, reports the Hartford Courant. "This is an untested legal area in Connecticut and there is not much guidance," her attorney says. "Can a smart and knowledgeable 17-year-old make the same choice, for better or worse, than she would be able to make without state interference nine months from now, when she turns 18?" In 2013, 17 states—excluding Connecticut—had a mature-minor doctrine, with Illinois and Massachusetts allowing for refusal of treatment. (See why an arrest warrant was issued for this 25-year-old who refused medical treatment.)

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