The recent death of Makayla Sault, an 11-year old leukemia patient, has shed light on an interesting issue within Ontario’s health care system; a child’s right to have control over their own-health care decisions.
After just 12 weeks of chemotherapy treatment, Sault apparently opted out in favour of natural medicine. Her decision was reportedly supported by many of her family and peers, many of whom are of First Nations descent. The case gained national attention when McMaster Children’s Hospital referred the case to Brant Children’s Aid Society, implying the Sault’s decision, and that of her family was inappropriate. After further investigation, the court reportedly ruled that Sault’s decision was hers to make, and that forcing the family to comply with the chemo treatment was a violation of their aboriginal and human rights.
Initially, it seemed the young girl was making a full recovery. However, within recent weeks her health turn for the worse and the little girl passed in January of 2015. Medical professionals apparently say that Sault’s death could have been prevented had she continued her recommended treatments, while her family maintains that it was those treatments that caused the little girl’s tragic passing.
According to a guide from the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, “In Ontario, the law is that everyone, even people younger than age 12, can make their own decisions about their health, including choosing ‘alternative treatments,’ traditional medicines and culturally appropriate treatment.”
Not everyone agrees with this position. Those who are opposed to it feel that many children, or families, do not have the medical expertise to make a potentially life changing decision. Some would argue that Makayla Sault would still be alive today had her family been obligated to follow her original treatment plan. Still, others are of the opinion that everyone, regardless of age, everyone should have the right to choose what they do with their body, and no doctor or court should have the ability to subject someone to a medical procedure that they are not willing to undergo.
Consent is a complicated matter in the health care field. In many cases, doctors, nurses, and social workers face a daily struggle with patients of all ages. Particularly with invasive treatments, it takes a well-trained professional to do what it required in the patience’s best interest without overstepping their personal boundaries and rights when they become agitated or overwhelmed with a prescribed treatment.
Alternative medicine is becoming increasingly mainstream, so it will be interesting to see how many families choose to seek second opinions outside of the standard medical practice. Many people are skeptical of big pharma and try to self-educate in order to make the right choices.