COURT ORDERS CONNECTICUT YOUTH TO UNDERGO CANCER TREATMENT AGAINST HER AND HER MOTHER’S WISHES

Last week, the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld a lower-court’s decision to order a minor child to undergo chemotherapy for a curable form of cancer. That, in itself, is not so unusual, but this decision came over the objection of not only the child, but also the child’s mother. What’s more, the child is 17 years old, and some feel that 17 is almost 18, so she should get to choose for herself. Of course, we have to draw a line somewhere, and statutorily speaking, we’ve drawn it at 18 years of age. But to move to take custody of a 17 year old from the intervening biological mother is itself a bold move.

The child and her mother had asked the Connecticut Supreme Court to adopt what is termed the “mature minor doctrine.” The theory goes that some 17-year-olds are mature beyond their age, and as a result, should be allowed to choose for themselves. The Connecticut Court said no, and they upheld the lower court’s findings that the decision to avoid the therapy on the grounds that “it would poison [her] body” was irrational (thus immature) given the 80–85% survival rate of the therapy. They said that although parents generally have the right to make decisions for their children’s medical care, the state may intervene in cases where the child’s life is put at unreasonable risk. Though exceptions for religious grounds have been made in the past, this case was not one of religious doctrine, but of personal preference. The Court said that it simply was not enough.

Nevada allows for minors to participate in some medical decisions, provided they possess sufficient information and maturity to do so. As usual, Nevada’s laws are a patchwork of similar but technically different rules, scattered across several statutes. For example, NRS 129, 609, and 687 provide for means of emancipation of minors, and NRS 442, and 450B, allow for, among other things, participation in decisions regarding pregnancy, abortion, and where serious injury may occur, but only after parents are notified, or if they cannot be found, after “a reasonable effort.” It also allows for a minor to petition the court for authorization upon findings that the child is “mature enough,” “financially independent,” and that the parental notice would be “detrimental to her best interests.” But the Nevada Supreme Court has held that the district court may appoint a guardian to make medical decisions over the objection of a parent when the physician believes the treatment is medically necessary. (In Re Guardianship of L.S. & H.S. 120 Nev. 157, 87 P.3d 521 (2004).

So, it would appear that what happened in Connecticut could happen here. And now that we have an intermediate appellate court, we might be able to see more law coming out of the Nevada Supreme Court.

Connecticut Supreme Court upholds ruling that teen must undergo chemo