RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Let's hear now about a life-and-death decision that may or may not be left to the teenage girl at the heart of it. Her name is Cassandra. She lives in Connecticut and has been diagnosed with cancer. After she refused to undergo chemotherapy, Cassandra was removed from her home by child welfare authorities and is now being forced to undergo care. Connecticut Supreme Court is taking up her case to weigh whether she's mature enough to make her own medical decisions. Here's Lucy Nalpathanchil from member station WNPR.
LUCY NALPATHANCHIL, BYLINE: Cassandra is Jackie Fortin's only child. She's been a single mother for more than 17 years. She says this is the first time they have been separated.
JACKIE FORTIN: Nobody, whether it's her age or an adult, should ever have to go through this by herself.
NALPATHANCHIL: Cassandra was diagnosed with advanced stage Hodgkin's lymphoma in September. After her mother argued with doctors about the diagnosis and missed appointments, Fortin was reported to the Department of Children and Families for neglect. A court gave the state temporary custody of Cassandra last month. And she's been held at a local hospital for the past four weeks. Fortin says it's her daughter's right to refuse chemotherapy, saying she doesn't want to poison her body.
FORTIN: This is not about death. My daughter is not going to die. This is about this is my body, my choice; let me decide.
NALPATHANCHIL: But Cassandra's doctors say she will die without treatment. They say with chemotherapy, she has an 85 percent chance of survival. Kristina Stevens, with the state Department of Children and Families, says Connecticut considered the doctor's medical opinion before getting involved.
KRISTINA STEVENS: We had the benefit of experts who could tell us with great clarity if, in fact, we don't do something, if the system doesn't react and respond, this child will die.
NALPATHANCHIL: There's another complicated layer to this case, and it has to do with Cassandra's age. Joshua Michtom is one of her attorneys.
JOSHUA MICHTOM: The general rule for adults is that you can say no to treatment no matter how lifesaving it may be. You can say no even to helpful treatment. If she were 18, no matter what anyone said, it would be her choice to make.
NALPATHANCHIL: Her attorneys say maturity doesn't just develop at a certain age. They'll argue Connecticut should follow the mature minor doctrine. That's a common law principle that allows courts to consider evidence on whether a minor is mature enough to make health care decisions. It's the first time a case like this has come up in Connecticut. Courts in Illinois, Maine and other states have followed the doctrine, allowing minors to refuse treatment because they demonstrated that they were mature enough to make health decisions. That's Fortin's hope for her daughter. She says the state has ripped apart a normal family and turned their lives into a nightmare.
FORTIN: I've never been in the system, never had a problem - nothing. And all of a sudden, we've got a medical situation, and now I'm being deemed as a bad mother.
NALPATHANCHIL: The Connecticut Supreme Court has promised to rule quickly. But that doesn't mean the justices will decide whether Cassandra can refuse treatment. Instead, it could send her case back to a lower court, allowing her attorneys to use mental health experts to prove she's mature. Otherwise, Cassandra will remain in state custody and continue to be treated for stage three Hodgkin's lymphoma, at least until September. That's when she turns 18 and can make her own decisions. For NPR News, I'm Lucy Nalpathanchil in Hartford.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.