A controversial decision by the Connecticut supreme court forcing a very unwilling teen into chemotherapy treatment for her cancer has been garnering a lot of attention and opened a huge debate about the rights of patients and the role of doctors. Do doctors have the right to override dissenting patients if they don’t agree with the patient’s decisions? While some feel that the court made the correct decision because of Cassandra Fortin’s age — she’s 17 — or because of her particular condition — she has cancer — others are completely outraged at this gross violation patient rights. There are grave concerns of a slippery slope as the number of these cases rise. This abhorrent behavior on the part of doctors and others in the medical profession is not limited to cancer patients, or teenagers.
These concerns are not unfounded. In addition to the long list of teenagers court ordered into treatment they didn’t want, there are many documented cases of adults being medically confined against their will, for sometimes bizarre reasons. Bret Bohn, 27 years old, sought treatment after experiencing side effects from a prescription medication. Doctors prescribed more medication, more side effects surfaced, including severe insomnia. Doctors, instead of changing his prescriptions, went to court seeking state guardianship for psychiatric reasons. This was largely due to disagreements between doctors and Bohn’s family, who wanted the prescriptions terminated. The doctors won. Legal battles ensued but Bohn was held against his will for eight months.
Hundreds of pregnant women have been court ordered into procedures they declined by doctors, who were perturbed by the patients’ dissenting opinions to medical advice. Most disturbing was the case of Angela Carder, a pregnant woman who relapsed with cancer. Her dearest wish was to remain alive long enough to deliver and hold her baby, even if it meant sacrificing her own life. An over-zealous doctor, concerned by Carder’s deteriorating condition, went to court and obtained an order allowing her to deliver Carder’s baby by Cesarean section at 26.5 weeks gestation. Carder, her husband, her parents, and her lawyer all vehemently protested this decision, even as Carder was being unwillingly wheeled into the operating room. The surgery killed Carder and her baby.
The deterioration of rights affects everyone, not just those whose decisions one might disagree with. Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States and a principle author of the Declaration of Independence, was concerned that doctors might one day act in opposition of their patients’ best interests.
“If people let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls who live under tyranny. “
Preventable medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, accountable for up to 440,000 deaths per year (let that sink in for a moment). In spite of this fallibility, the fact that absolutely no medical treatment is completely safe (even the innocuous Tylenol kills around 150 people per year), many carry risks and side effects that patients may consider unacceptable, and some egregious doctors have admitted to treating healthy patients with toxic chemotherapy drugs merely for profit (you can read about one prominent Michigan doctor convicted of doing just that here). Courts across the nation are enforcing the whims of doctors on very unwilling patients. At what point did Americans lose their freedom? When exactly did American patients become subject to a medical tyranny that completely disregards their right to grant or withhold their informed consent, that uses the courts to punish them for a difference in opinion that doctors can’t even exterminate within their own ranks?