Western Society likes to pat itself on the back, thinking all is well in the area of health and human services. We have made great strides in the prevention and treatment of disease. Things that would have resulted in death a hundred years ago, like a ruptured appendix or consumption are easily treated with surgical intervention and antibiotics. However do we go too far in requiring that our ideals of treatment are met regardless of the patient’s wishes?
Nowhere is this a fuzzier area than with the treatment of minors. We all want to see children grow to live long and healthy lives. But where should the line be drawn when it comes to treatment choices; with the doctor; with the parent; or with the patient?
Last year an eleven year old boy* from Ontario was taken away from his family when they chose to tell doctors that their child would not be brought in for chemotherapy for his Lymphoblastic leukemia. The child had been treated with chemotherapy for the same when he was six; this time he chose to explore the natural healing medicines of his Métis heritage. This did not set well with our modern code for medical treatment. Doctors contacted the Ontario Children’s Services which in turn took the eleven year old from his family and into protective custody where the boy was forced to get chemotherapy treatments. It was only when the parents agreed that no alternative treatments would be pursued and they would comply with the continuance of the chemotherapy that Children’s Services, acting with court support, would allow them to see their son; though all medical decisions for their son would remain with Children’s Services. Why did the court allow this action? Children’s Services and the doctors used the argument that since the boy had a diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), he was not mentally competent to understand the ramifications of his decisions. The courts decided that the parents’ decisions to seek holistic and alternative treatment were acting in a harmful and neglectful manner.
A similar case is currently under trial in Minnesota. This case involves Daniel Hauser, a thirteen year old youth. This family was put to trial to determine who had the right to decide what was best for the boy, his parents and himself, or medical doctors. At the core of the court case was the boy’s refusal to continue taking chemotherapy treatments for his Hodgkin’s lymphoma based on religious and other personal beliefs. Daniel and his family had been adopted into the “Namenha” Native American band which believes in a ‘do no harm’ concept. In his own words Daniel explained that “one of our main concepts and beliefs is we do no harm, and since chemotherapy is a poison and we inject that into our bodies, we would really like to get around that.” Rather than have the youth stand with his family and their lawyer to defend his position, the court appointed a guardian who is to represent the best interests of the child. The court’s position is that at thirteen Daniel is too young to understand the seriousness of his illness and lacks the maturity to make independent decisions about his medical care. The outcome the doctors are hoping for is that the judge adjudicates that Daniel is a child in need of protection and will then force Daniel Hauser to submit to the chemotherapy treatments. The gist of the argument, as with the Ontario case, is the parents in supporting their son’s decision were acting in a harmful and neglectful manner. In the midst of the trial Daniel and his mother disappeared and had arrest warrants issued. They came back voluntarily when they found this out.
Should doctors have the authority to deny a person’s right to the type of treatment they want even if that treatment is no treatment resulting in death if they so chose? Doctors, health care professionals and social service authorities seem to be content with the concept of death when they see the three initials, “DNR” typed onto a patient’s chart – they just medicate that person so that they don’t both the other patients. What is it then that makes a young man’s wish to take his chances unacceptable? Each person has their own individual belief on how much pain is acceptable and how much they can withstand. Is it only a matter of professional ego that doctors execute their will upon those who have no desire for the treatment?
The human mind is a wondrous organic machine; it can manipulate the various body parts through a myriad of challenges thought to be lethal with simple electrical synaptic bursts. Healing is one of its most difficult of tasks. There must be a will for it to do so, how effective can a mind be if that person has been forced to undergo what the mind has not prepared to accept as the solution to the problem at hand?
Medicine has proven that it is fallible – the anti-viral drugs that doctors pushed years ago as the cure all have now become ineffective. The viruses have mutated to the point where the strongest of these have become impervious to the ‘treatments’ where if they had been left alone and people to ride out the end of the viral cycle they would have remained as a lesser threat than they are now. The result of this has been to strengthen viruses to the point of which they are untreatable and as can be as lethal as small pox was to Native Americans when it was first introduced.
Is it truly unreasonable for individuals even youth to seek out alternative treatments, particularly when there are well studied alternatives available? For example, chaparral, a wild shrub found in arid regions of the south-western U.S. and Mexico has been used successfully by Native Americans for the treatment of cancer. One of the natural elements found in the leaflets and twigs of the chaparrals is NDGA (nordihydroguaiaretic acid) a highly potent antioxidant that along with the natural lactone esculetin has been shown to suppress cell growth. The effects from the derivatives from the Chaparral plant are typically nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, fever, fatigue, and jaundice. These side effects were enough for the FDA in America to classify the chaparral plant remedies as dangerous on the urging of the medical community concerned for people’s safety. The medical community though is unconcerned with the side effects of chemotherapy which include nausea, vomiting, hair loss, fatigue, bleeding, bruising, anemia, infection, intestinal problems, appetite and weight changes, sore mouth, gums and throat, nerve and muscle problems, dry and discolored skin, kidney and bladder irritation, and sexuality and fertility issues.
NDGA works by attacking the free radicals within a cell. Comparatively, chemotherapy kills not only the cancerous cells but the healthy cells as well. One of the arguments against the use of the leaflets and twigs of the chaparrals is that though in clinical studies the healing powers of this shrub is conclusive, the usage of the shrub in human subjects have been inconclusive. The underlying mentality of the medical community is that chemotherapy works – most of the time – in killing the cancer cells, as well as every other healthy cell in the treatment area, that ravage a person’s body. But does it really? It is a presumption that the cancer cells are destroyed or turned inactive by the radiation because there has never been a study done on the split of a cancer cell in a living organism that on one side is given the treatment while the other half is left untreated to see if nature has its own cure. There have been studies on this person versus this person or lab rats but the data is subjective because each individual has a unique genetic blueprint that could be affected through different conditions therefore making the data on chemotherapy treatment inconclusive. Subjective data is dangerous in the hands of those who have a stake in being right, such as drug companies.
All of this forced treatment for the greater good reminds one of other infamous medical experimenters. Joseph Mengele comes most readily to mind.
The good doctor Joseph Mengele, best known for his medical experimentation on innocents, was no different than the doctors of today: he thought he could play with the human mind in order to force change upon those he did his studies on. He concentrated the majority of his work on twins to show the differences as he attempted to manipulate eye colors, create co-joined twins and the like. He was not alone, there were other doctors employed by the Nazis who conducted experiments on freezing prisoners in order to find a method to counter hypothermia, injecting prisoners with Malaria in order to test the effectiveness of various drugs, using mustard gas on prisoners to attempt to find counter measures to the effects of the gas, treating infecting battle wounds, turning sea water into drinkable waters, the list goes on. Each one of these doctors was seemingly of the mind that their service was towards the good of their society. They assumed that they had the right to take away a person’s choice because it was for the betterment of the whole. This seems shockingly similar to the arguments of the doctors and court appointed caretakers of these two youth.
Joseph Mengele and his ilk justified their actions by belittling the humanity and beliefs of those who they deemed not Aryan; today the doctors of these two boys have chosen to justify their beliefs by belittling the beliefs of the Native Canadian and American populations. In the Western world today these healers twist and manipulate the laws that were meant to protect the rights and freedoms of the individual to work against the individual. How different is this methodology of suppression different from the Nazi Germany government sanction of the experiments?
I have only one last question for the doctors: if you have such strong belief in your experimentation would you step from behind your legal safety wall and face charges of forcible confinement, torture, and if the patient dies, murder? It is one of those societal nuances that intentionally inflicting pain upon someone, especially a child, is considered monstrous unless one is wearing a lab coat and stethoscope – then it becomes an act of humanitarianism. It has been over sixty years since people were given the ‘option’ of visiting the good doctors or facing the gas chamber; perhaps it is time for society to be sickened by the ‘option’ of visiting the good doctors or facing prison too.
*child’s name withheld by court order