Forced Treatment

You are diagnosed with a fatal disease.  There is a treatment for the disease but it is not 100% effective.  It will involve injecting toxins into your body intended to kill the diseased cells, but that will also inflict unpredictable damage on healthy cells and organs.  The treatment could require extended hospitalization, rendering you almost incapable of functioning.

Another alternative is that the disease will kill you, and it might kill you in as little as two years.

There are another alternatives as well, ones that doesn’t require your body to be poisoned, but that does not have well-documented or well-correlated evidence of success.  These rely on unconventional approaches to strengthening the body to fight the disease.  They are not guaranteed to work either, but likely won’t result in you spending extended time in hospitals as a result of the attempted cures.

Which would you choose?  A lot of variables come into play.  How old are you?  What sort of physical condition are you in?  But at the end of the day, you would assume that this would be a choice for you to make, correct?  You would decide on the first alternative, or one of the other lesser-known, lesser-proven options?  It might even be your choice not to take any of the alternatives, to let the disease run it’s course and see what happens.  Right?

What if it isn’t your choice?  It’s not your choice or your parents or your spouse or anyone else who knows you and understands why you might make a particular choice.  Rather, the choice is made by a medical board simply based on their assertions that the first option is your best chance for survival, and they have the right and duty to force you to take that option.

That’s what is happening right now to a young woman.  I find it reasonable to assume it is probably happening to other people as well, but this young woman is taking the issue public.  In her case, she is being told that she must submit to the first option for treatment because she is only 17 and isn’t old enough to make serious decisions for herself.

At the risk of further alienating my younger self, I can see an argument that a minor isn’t capable of or shouldn’t be allowed exclusively to make such decisions.  I think 17 is a lot different than seven in this respect, but let’s grant that argument for a moment.  A 17-year old girl is not capable of making serious decisions for herself in regards to her healthcare.

What about her mother?  Is her mother capable?  If her mother – the woman who brought her into the world and knows her probably as well as if not better than any other human being – if her mother agrees with her that they want to try other options, that they’ve weighed the risks and know the outcomes are sketchy, that they aren’t aiming for death or suicide but rather for life through healthier treatment options, if her mother agrees with her, should the mother have the right to make that decision?  When her daughter is in agreement with her?  Should the girl’s legal guardian be allowed that power?

The state is arguing that no, she shouldn’t have that right to refuse the recommended course of treatment.  She is being told her daughter must be forced into the treatment she doesn’t want.

Yet – and here’s the irony – yet if the girl were four years younger, if the girl were 13 rather than 17, this very same girl would have the legal right in her state to request contraceptives or even to get an abortion without her parents even knowing about it.

Does that make sense to you?  Does it frighten you that someone could insist that you engage in a course of treatment that can’t guarantee survival, involves putting dangerous toxins into your body, may render you unable to live life normally for the remainder of your treatment?  Should your government have the right to force you into that course of treatment?

This may sound similar to the debate over assisted suicide/euthanasia – the idea that the state can or should permit or require the termination of life given a variable set of circumstances, generally described as terminal illness but not necessarily limited to that.  Is the state requiring that someone have a right to kill themselves fundamentally different from the state requiring someone to undergo one course of treatment rather than another?  No.  One aims at the elimination of life, the other is a matter of debate over how best to save it.  The state decreeing that there are arbitrary circumstances where someone can end their life is very different from a disagreement over a medical procedure aimed at prolonging life.

My government can and does have very good reasons for saying that I don’t get to end my life whenever I decide to.  But I don’t think my government has a very compelling case for saying that I must submit to a certain course of treatment for a particular condition or disease.  I can (and should) be presented with my options, but the decision should be mine which option to pursue.

One Response to “Forced Treatment”

  1. Forced Treatment II | Living Apologetics Says:

    […] Last week I blogged my concerns about the growing attitude of doctors that they have the right to dictate treatment to patients.  A high school acquaintance of mine posted this article on Facebook today, lamenting the demise of the young girl.  She requested feedback from some of her professional peers, and they more or less empathized with the idea that doctors should have the right to dictate treatment options. […]

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