Indigenous

First Nations girl's family rejects chemo, hospital goes to court to force treatment

Lawyers from the McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton have gone to court in an attempt to force a First Nations girl back into chemotherapy, but her mother says the judicial system has no authority over her child's treatment.

Publication ban protects identity of girl while a judge hears the case in court

McMaster Children's Hospital is challenging a First Nations mother's decision to withdraw her daughter from chemotherapy. (McMaster)

A First Nations mother is defending her decision to remove her child from chemotherapy treatment. Her daughter underwent chemo for 10 days at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton before the family decided to discontinue treatment because it conflicts with their beliefs.

In a letter to CBC News, the mother wrote, “I will not have my daughter treated with poison.… She has to become a healthy mother and a grandmother. I have chosen treatment that will not compromise her well-being and quality of life.”

Lawyers from the McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton have gone to court in an attempt to force the Brant Children's Aid Society to intervene and return her to chemotherapy treatment.

In a similar case earlier this year, the Children's Aid Society decided not to intervene when 11-year-old Makayla Sault left chemotherapy treatment at McMaster to pursue traditional indigenous medicine. Her case was never sent to court. 

In this case, Judge Gethin Edward has imposed a publication ban on anything that would identify the girl or family involved in the case. The court proceedings resumed today and are are expected to continue tomorrow. 

I don't want medicine they were giving me in the hospital. It made me really really sick. [It] hurt my belly for lots of days and my hair fell out.— Aboriginal girl who refused chemotherapy for traditional medicine

The mother dismissed the court proceedings.

“As a member of the Six Nations Confederacy I will not have my decisions of health care for my child debated and judged in the Canadian judicial system.… The Canadian judicial system does not have the authority to determine our law or practices, which predates the existence of Canada, valid or otherwise.”

She also says that before McMaster went to court, the Children's Aid Society decided not to intervene and force her daughter back into treatment.

“They investigated and reported they didn't have a protection issue with my decision as I had a comprehensive health-care plan. We would not make a choice that would compromise her health or life. There is enough case evidence behind Onkwehonwe medicine and the practices at [the Hippocrates Health Institute​] that we know we have made the right choice.”

Dr. Peter Fitzgerald, president of McMaster Children's Hospital, does not agree.

"This child has a life-threatening illness [and] without standard treatment will not survive, so our sole focus is trying to bring this child into treatment so we have an opportunity to provide her with a long healthy life."

The family left McMaster to seek treatment at the Hippocrates Health Institute, a centre that focuses on nutrition and naturopathic therapy in Florida.

“I decided to treat her cancer with our traditional medicines from our ancient indigenous knowledge coupled with the practices of nutrition as medicine, plant-based supplements along with other therapies,” her mother wrote.

The release also contained a letter from the child describing her experience during chemotherapy.  

She wrote, “I don't want medicine they were giving me in the hospital. It made me really really sick. [It] hurt my belly for lots of days and my hair fell out. I know now that all those things happened to me because poison was being put in my body. Me and my mom cried a lot.”

The case is similar to another First Nations girl who refused chemotherapy while being treated at McMaster earlier this year. In May, 11-year-old Makayla Sault left treatment at McMaster Children’s Hospital to pursue traditional indigenous medicine. 

Sault's story made national headlines and after an investigation, CAS decided not to intervene and her case never went to court.

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