Does a mother have the right to deny lifesaving medical treatment for her child (even if the child agrees with her)? If she does opt for other treatments (less proven/ successful), can the State force her to undergo a certain treatment?
Those are some of the questions I have been pondering over for the last few days.
Consider the case of Daniel Hauser – a thirteen year old boy who is suffering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Apparently, with chemotherapy and radiation, Hodgkin’s lymphoma is curable more than 80% of the time. But chemotherapy can be really painful, and I am not surprised that a 13 year old boy rebels at undergoing it. What’s more surprising is that his parents should agree with him. After one round of chemo, Danny’s parents decided to stop treatment and are now pursuing alternative treatment consisting of some American Indian tradition called Nemenhah, which supposedly has cures for AIDS and cancer.
The doctor who was treating Danny alerted the authorities, and soon a judge ruled that Daniel Hauser must get medical treatment – i.e. chemotherapy. Authorities are now searching for Daniel and Colleen Hauser, his mother, both of whom have fled their home.
Over at Science Blogs, Respectful Insolence seems to think that the issue is not even religion but irrational beliefs of the parent(s) who use religion as a crutch.
I completely agree that Colleen Hauser is very unwise to seek alternative medical treatment for Hodgkins lymphoma, given that chemotherapy has a high probability of curing this cancer.
Having said that, this story raises a lot of questions in my mind about the precedents it sets.
1. What if the disease had not been Hodgkins lymphoma but some other form of cancer like, say, pancreatic cancer? About 80% of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer die within a year despite treatment. In such a case, isn’t it understandable if such patients forego any treatment, or forego chemotherapy for other alternatives? So then, is there one law for one form of cancer and another for a less curable one?
2. Can doctors break the patient-doctor confidentiality and alert authorities if patients stop treatment at their hospital? How did this doctor know for certain they hadn’t gone to another hospital anyway? Did he do a nationwide/worldwide search of hospitals?
3. What forms of medicine are considered “treatment”? Is allopathy the only form that is acceptable? If this had been a disease where allopathy didn’t have a high success rate, would it be wrong to try homeopathy or ayurveda? Continuing with my pancreatic cancer example, if allopathy offers a 5% chance of surviving for 5 years, and another alternative treatment offers the same chance, is one inferior to the other? Especially if say, treatment with allopathy is very painful and homeopathy is not ?
4. Is considering alternative medical treatment against the law? How can a court rule that one has to take a certain form of medical treatment?
So, dear readers, what do you think of all this?
Do you think something like this can happen in India ? I believe that there is more tolerance for alternative medical treatments in India, am I right?