The Alternative Treatment is No Alternative

If you are a Connecticut resident, you’ve probably heard about 17 year old Cassandra, who is being forced by the CT Supreme Court to undergo chemotherapy to treat Hogkin’s Lymphoma. The decision was reached after a trial to determine whether or not Cassandra was a competent minor who could refuse chemotherapy. The result of that trial, is that despite being almost 18, Cassandra is not able to make this decision on her own. You can read NBC Connecticut’s report here: State Supreme Court Rules Teen Can’t Refuse Chemo.

There are many arguments against the Supreme Court’s ruling, most of which focus on bodily rights and the right to choose. Many say Cassandra is a mature 17 year old, and has been against chemotherapy since before she was diagnosed. Her mother, who knows that the chemotherapy will save her daughter’s life, supports Cassandra’s refusal of it. Her mother is also adamant about using alternative treatments instead.

Statistically, when Hogkin’s Lymphoma is treated with chemo, the survival rate is 85%. There doesn’t appear to be a clear statistical analysis of success rates with alternative treatments. This could be for many reasons, such as these treatments are used experimentally and by smaller groups of people. Alternative treatments are rarely offered by doctors. For cancer in general, most alternatives are used to treat symptoms and keep patients comfortable. Alternatives are also offered by independent organizations or practices, which means they could be fraudulent, or do more harm than good. Trying to find an actual instance where someone was cured of Hogkin’s Lymphoma without chemotherapy and instead alternative treatment, yielded no results. However, Hogkin’s Lymphoma has been treated with stem cells, which can cure the illness, but this procedure is far more dangerous than chemo, and hardly ever used.

Since the primary argument against the court is Cassandra’s maturity, it is important to note that no matter how mature she is, she is biologically 17 years old. Maturity and myelination of the brain are two entirely different things. Maturity comes from environmental experiences, most of which are social. Myelination is the growth and development of the brain. There are certain things a 17 year old brain cannot do as well as a 27 year old brain (27 is the average age when the human brain fully myelinates), like make important, life saving medical decisions. Cassandra is very good at focusing on what chemotherapy will do to her body right now, but what the cancer will do to her body, does not appear to be at the forefront of her mind. In addition, her reaction to the treatment was to run away from home for a week. Before that, she and her mother had missed several treatments. This is why teens are minors, and why we must protect them, not just from their parents/families, but from themselves.

That leads me to my next point, about why alternative treatments are no alternative. It’s more than statistics, it’s the fact that these “natural cures” don’t actually cure diseases. It’s the fact that this belief that if you refuse vaccines and eat healthy food you’ll never get sick, and alternatively you get very sick, very often. It’s about the fact that these folks are trading health for making a statement, and forgetting that deadly diseases like smallpox were eliminated because of vaccines. It’s the fact that this teenager will die very young without chemotherapy, and the state is being more humane than you are giving them credit for.

This is mainly a question of what is ethical, and what is not. We live in an age where assisted suicides are becoming more common, and abortions are being heavily debated. These are serious topics for discussion, because they examine when, and how, it is okay to die.

Take abortion for example – it is a huge debate about whether or not abortion is murder. Whether or not the fetus’s survival is more important than the mother’s. Regardless of how you feel about it, you cannot argue with scientific fact: The fetus is not alive. In order to be alive, you need to be able to do three things, breathe, eat, and grow. Fetuses have plugs in their noses while in the womb, so they do not breathe. The nutrients they receive are via umbilical cord, and come from the mother. The mother starves herself, the fetus does not eat. Growth is also dependent on these nutrients. Therefore, it is okay to have an abortion because you cannot murder a fetus that is not alive, and is not human. It is not okay for a mother to die because of a fetus’s imaginary life being considered more important. That is unethical.

Assisted suicide is another serious debate. People who choose assisted suicide do so because they have incurable diseases that are painful, not just physically, but psychologically and emotionally. People choose assisted suicide because the quality of life is so poor, that it cannot be improved, thus making life not worth living. Assisted suicide is best reserved for people with circumstances beyond their control, like an incurable disease. It is not for people who want to die because they are unhappy with life choices, or other aspects of their lives which can be improved or worked toward. Assisted suicide is not a cop out, it is an alternative to imprisonment because of a disease, and because quality of life is not defined by a beating heart.

You may have heard about Brittany Maynard, 29, who chose to die on November 1st last year. She was suffering from a malignant brain tumor, and was terminally ill. Radiation treatment would have kept her body alive, but as she put it, her mind was going to be eaten. Being a competent individual, she made this decision, and many people argued against it. Many people disregarded quality of life, in favor of quantity of life. You can read more about her story here: Cancer sufferer: Why I’m choosing to die on Nov 1 aged 29.

What makes the previously described instances, so relevant to Cassandra’s story? Perhaps it is because the woman’s right to choose what goes in and out of her body is serious. You cannot force a woman to do something she doesn’t want to do. It sounds hypocritical, to say that a 17 year old can have an abortion without parental consent, but not choose whether or not to have chemotherapy. However, it’s not hypocritical, because it is not okay to force a teenager to live with a child she does not want, and it is not okay to force a teenager to die of cancer. Argue otherwise all you want, but it is very unlikely that Cassandra’s choice to refuse chemo was really her choice, and not her mother’s. It is quite convenient that Cassandra happened to have these views about chemo, then was diagnosed with cancer. Parents can often times be the bane of a teenager’s existence.

Now why have I chosen to bring up assisted suicide? Notice my description of it, and how it is about incurable diseases. Hogkin’s Lymphoma is a curable illness, with a survival rate of 85%. This martyrdom, of refusing chemo and choosing to die instead of accepting life saving treatment is a severe cop out. Furthermore, the vast difference between Brittany Maynard and Cassandra, is twelve years. Brittany was an adult, not just legally, but physically too. She was well beyond the expected age of myelination, and thus fully capable of making that decision. This is not something which should ever be left up to a teenager, or any child at any age. Imagine if the maturity argument was allowed to be used for a five year old, and what horror that would bring.

I am going to leave you with a description of what Hogkin’s Lymphoma does to the human body. First the lymph nodes swell. This is followed by itchy skin, night sweats, and then unexplained weight loss. The liver and spleen enlarge. Sufferers also experience cyclical fevers.

If left untreated, or treated with alternative medicine, then the cancer’s attack on the lymphatic system weakens the body’s ability to fight disease. This is not that different from having HIV, because now a cold can be dangerous, especially if it turns into pneumonia. People with this disease will not just be suffering from it, but from all of the other illnesses that they will get on top of it. They will be sick constantly, uncomfortable, and certainly unable to live life well. If the alternative treatment prolongs death and causes more suffering, then it is not an alternative.

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