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Connecticut Top Court to Rule on Teen's Right to Refuse Chemotherapy

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Cassandra C., 17, and her mother are battling the state of Connecticut over the teen's right to refuse chemotherapy.

Cassandra was diagnosed in September 2014 with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a rare condition not to be confused with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Physicians recommended chemotherapy, which according to the National Cancer Institute can cause hair loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue and pain.

The teen's mother, Jackie Fortin, supports Cassandra's decision not to undergo chemotherapy, saying that Cassandra had expressed anti-chemo sentiments before being diagnosed, calling chemotherapy "poison" she didn't want in her body.

She knows the long-term effects of having chemo, what it does to your organs, what it does to your body. She may not be able to have children after this because it affects everything in your body. It not only kills cancer, it kills everything in your body.

Fortin said: "It's a question of fundamental constitutional rights-the right to have a say over what happens to your body -- and the right to say to the government 'you can't control what happens to my body.'"

Cassandra was so strongly opposed to the chemotherapy, after receiving two court ordered treatments in November, the teenager "ran away from home to avoid further treatment," according to a state judicial branch summary of the case.

Michael S. Taylor, who represents Fortin, filed an emergency appeal and will attempt to persuade the state's Supreme Court justices to adopt the "mature minor doctrine." According to the journal Pediatrics, the provision allows certain minors to be capable of making major decisions -- typically involving medical procedures -- on their own and exists in 14 states but not Connecticut.

In the appeal, Cassandra and her mother state that "absent any finding that they are incompetent, the trial court violated their constitutional rights in allowing Division of Children and Families (DCF) to substitute its judgment for theirs and in permitting DCF to force Cassandra to receive medical treatment against her will."

Two Canadians families recently fought similar battles to prevent their minor children from being subjected to chemotherapy. Jada Johnson and Makayla Sault are both 11-year-olds who were diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Both girls and their families, members of Six Nations Confederate, battled Children's Aid Society and McMaster Children's Hospital for the right to be treated with holistic alternative therapies in Florida rather than chemotherapy.

Both Canadian girls are currently alive and have not been forced to undergo chemotherapy.

On Jan. 8 the Connecticut Supreme Court in Hartford will decide if Cassandra C. has the right to refuse chemotherapy or if DCF is "authorized to make medical decisions on (the) child's behalf."

If Cassandra's appeal is denied she will remain in the hospital and continue to be forced to receive chemotherapy treatments against her wishes.