Forced Chemo Is A Fear For Many Families In U.S. - RxLeaf
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Forced Chemo Is A Fear For Many Families In U.S.

Matt Weeks
Forced Chemo on kids

Should the government be able to force a child to start or continue chemotherapy even when the parent says No?

As people lose faith in the pharmaceutical industry more children with life-threatening diseases are being tossed into the middle of fierce ethical debates. These unfold between parents and the state agencies designed to protect children. Forced chemo is the hottest button of them all.

When parents’ medical beliefs are at odds with states’ standards of treatment for children with severe illnesses, such as cancer, a battle of wills and morals can emerge. These battles pit the record of established medical practices against the promise of new treatments, both of which have their strong and weak points. The goals of the states and the parents are the same: healthy, disease-free children. But their methods, and the kinds of the proof they want to rely on, make compromise and understanding difficult.

When Faith is at Odds With Modern Medicine

In many cases, the state forces children into traditional medical treatments, especially when doing so has a high track record of survival. In 2009, a federal judge ruled that 13-year-old Danny Hauser should be separated from his parents if they continued to refuse to take him to chemotherapy sessions. The judge said the parents’ preference for natural treatments of the boy’s Hodgkin’s lymphoma amounted to neglect.

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The parents argued that chemotherapy, which they saw as the equivalent of injecting poison into their son, ran counter to the teachings of their particular branch of Nemenhah faith. Eventually, the Hausers submitted to the state, Danny underwent chemotherapy, and he was cured.

But that’s not always the case.

When Billy Best was diagnosed with the same disease in 1994, he ran away from his hometown of Norwell, Massachusetts, to avoid forced chemo. He successfully evaded the treatment and lived to tell the tale, never succumbing to his cancer.

These are just two stories that illustrate a larger point, and cut to the heart of the debate. Should the state have the right to force children to undergo traditional medical treatments if their parents object?

Children Have Health Rights But Not Able to Make Own Decisions

The U.S. Constitution affirms that every human being has the right to life. That includes children. We also have laws in place that prevent parents from doing whatever they want with their children. While kids do not enjoy all the freedoms afforded full American citizens, they are decidedly not the property of their parents. Beating and neglecting children is against the law, for example.

But there is the right to religious freedom in the United States, just how far are residents allowed to take that?

And This is Where Cannabis Enters the Scene

While chemotherapy has proven effective, cannabis therapy is rapidly gaining scientific legitimacy for a number of conditions. The National Cancer Institute, part of the Nations Institutes of Health, notes on its website that cannabinoids have benefits in the treatment of cancer.

It also notes that the federal government sees cannabis as illegal.

So we have a dilemma. Most people agree that the federal government’s position on cannabis is illogical and wrong. It’s not clear whether that idea informs judges’ decisions to force children into unwanted treatments, but it does speak to the way in which governments’ health decrees can be more political than scientific.

And let’s be clear: Most states don’t prohibit alternative treatments in these cases. Instead, they compel traditional treatments, such as forced chemo. You can use the two together. It’s always best to work out a compromise with physicians. They will be responsible to report the case to the Department of Family and Children’s Services if you are not following ‘doctor’s orders.’

More importantly, for your child’s wellbeing, science has yet to demonstrate that cannabis therapy can reduce tumors and stop metastasis within the human body (with the exception of glioma). Success stories are anecdotal and you’ll want to consider this when working with the oncologist to develop a treatment plan.

We All Just Want What’s Best…

The state also requires us to wear seatbelts, which save lives in the overwhelming majority of automobile accidents. The same goes for helmets. These are, of course, external things that keep kids safe. We seem to have a harder time agreeing on community health standards when it comes to what can go into children’s bodies, instead of on them. Look at the backlash that health-food cheerleaders like Michelle Obama faced when they campaigned for healthier school lunches. And don’t even get started on the vaccine debate.

And, because children cannot look after themselves, someone has to protect them when their parents make life-threatening decisions. When parents cannot or do not feed their kids, we ask the state to remove the children from the house. Nobody is against that. So is treating cancer just a continuation of that same ideology? And if we don’t want the state to rely on the medical advice of professionals, who should it rely on?

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Cannabis is an effective treatment for cancer symptoms and there is no doubt about that one. But will it kill your child’s cancer?  Medical choices can be really difficult decisions to make. And when you’re dealing with little people, it can truly feel like the Devil’s bargain. Especially when the state says you have no choice.

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Matt Weeks

A writer living and working in Athens, GA, Matt's work has appeared in various newspapers, books, magazines and online publications over the last 15 years. When he's not writing, he hosts bar trivia, plays in local bands, and makes a mean guacamole. He holds an undergraduate degree in journalism and a master's degree in organizational theory. His favorite movie is "Fletch."

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