26 June 2009

On Making Decisions for Oneself

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).


JJones said...
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Anonymous said...

I respectfully disagree with you on this one Mr Hump:) I feel quite strongly in support of the court's decision (largely on account of the child's age).... still love me long time?:)

Ken Monteith said...

Tom: but of course I still love you long time ;-) Just don't make me take my pills unless I want them!

JJones: I certainly never claimed to defend any religious beliefs, as I think they tend to be uniformly kooky, but I geneally keep that to myself, expecially when the religions are of the 'already picked-on, don't have a lot of power in society' variety.

Terry Pigeon said...

I've had this discussion with a few others and have been the only one to disagree with the court's decision.

Ken firmly hit it on the nail. I have no sympathy for Jehovah's Witnesses as a religion having been one in a past life. Thankfully I was never placed in a position to have to make a decision on blood transfusions. I know for a fact that "many" doctors will force a blood transfusion on a person simply because the doctor feels he can and not because the individual needs one - the doctor can make a case for it if he wants. I even know of people who have been left to die when other treatment options (and maybe better) were available.

However as for Ken's viewpoint I fully agree with it. Forcing someone to take a treatment without their consent is obscene. By doing it to one specific group (JWs) and getting away with it gives them an opening to do it in other cases.

Anonymous said...

In my experience doctors already judge HIV+ patients who decide to go stop their meds. Lipodystophy or side effects be dammed. I suspect that depending on the doctor there are probably already incidents of doctors forcing people into psychiatric treatment based solely on their conviction that anyone who would choose to not take meds must not be of sound mind. Sadly I feel that your fear is probably already a reality somewhere. David