While the rest of the world wailed, gnashed teeth and moonwalked over the death of an odd recluse who they had never met, something a little more important — in my mind — was unfolding on the floor of the Supreme Court of Canada. The story of that case is here, but let me also express my disappointment with how difficult this was to find on the web site of our national broadcaster (much easier, in fact on several commercial services).
A 14-year-old girl, determined to be sufficiently mature by psychiatrists, had her decision to refuse a blood transfusion overruled by a judge and the treatment was administered without her consent. Yes, she is a Jehovah's Witness, and no, I am not given to defending religiously-based viewpoints. But the notion of being able to consent to or to refuse medical treatment is something I care very much about.
The justices speak of life-saving treatment, and insist that this is not about religious freedom or the attitudes toward what has long been a stigmatized religion in this country and many others. But let's change that example and propose a pregnant child — like the incest victim excommunicated in Brazil for having an abortion when following through with the pregnancy would have killed her — and the point of view of the Roman Catholic church. Would the courts and child welfare authorities intervene to compel such a child to have an abortion to save her life if she and her family insisted that this would violate their freedom of religion? Sadly, I don't think so, and more sadly still, that has everything to do with the perceived legitimacy of the Roman Catholic church, versus the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Not being a child, and not being likely to have any, this still concerns me as an issue as a person living with an eventually fatal disease. I want to know that I am in control of the decisions relating to my treatment, that I will be able to say no, or no more when in the future I have decided that I have done enough. I need to know that the content of my decision will not be used as proof of my incapacity to make it — surely he can't be in full possession of his faculties if he is deciding not to cling to every last second of life.
I probably wouldn't make the same decision this young woman wanted to make, but I find myself firmly on her side with respect to her right to make it (with apologies to Voltaire).