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Girl, 17, Must Undergo Chemo, Conn. Supreme Court Rules

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By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on January 08, 2015 3:33 PM

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a 17-year-old girl cannot refuse chemotherapy to treat her potentially fatal Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The justices voted unanimously to uphold a trial court's ruling allowing state officials to intervene in Cassandra Callender's medical care, Fox News reports. Callender, with the support of her mother, had refused to undergo chemotherapy treatments that her doctors say provide her with an 80 to 85 percent chance of survival, believing the treatments would do more damage to her body than the cancer.

Without the treatment, Callender would be unlikely to survive, according to her doctors.

State Given Temporary Custody

After Callender and her mother refused treatment, despite an earlier court order that they do so, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families won temporary custody of Callender, at which point she was forced to begin the six-month regimen of chemotherapy.

The most recent ruling came after Callender and her mother went to court in an attempt to assert the so-called "mature minor doctrine," which allows a minor who exhibits the requisite maturity to make his or her own medical decisions.

But in its order upholding the trial court ruling, the Connecticut Supreme Court seemed dubious as to whether the "mature minor doctrine" even applied in the state of Connecticut. Even assuming that it did, the court explained, Callender and her mother have "failed to meet their burden under any standard that Cassandra was a mature minor and capable of acting independently concerning her life threatening medical condition."

Parents' Rights to Make Healthcare Decisions

Although parents generally have the right to make medical decisions for their own children, when those decisions put a child at risk of death or severe injury, the state may intervene.

In a 2002 Idaho case, a law enforcement officer removed an infant from the care of her parents after the parents refused a spinal tap to test the child for meningitis. After doctors performed the spinal tap, which showed no signs of meningitis, the infant was returned to her parents. The parents filed suit, and a district court ruled that the parents' constitutional rights were violated. However, in 2009 the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling.

Callender is currently continuing treatments at a Connecticut hospital.

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