Friday, November 14, 2014

Canadian judge rules that First Nations child's survival interests don't matter more than parental choice

In what has been described as a precedent setting case a Canadian judge has decided today that First Nations parents are well within their right to remove her child from hospital care and place it in an alternative healing outfit (registered in Florida as a massage parlour!). The 'doctor' practicing there has no medical qualifications.

Here's the background of the case: The child suffers from childhood leukemia. Standard chemotherapy has a 95% likelihood of complete remission of the cancer. The family in question has decided instead to transfer the child to an alternative healing facility. The child in question is 11 years old. The local Children's Aid Society decided not to intervene, because the parents were providing 'care' to their child. Apparently to the Children's Aid Society it didn't matter at all what the evidence of success for the parental 'care' was. Turns out that it is non-existent. Another First Nations child also 'treated' in said alternative healing facility has since experienced a serious deterioration in her health because leukemia has returned with a vengeance courtesy of the quack treatment meted out by the Florida based quack healer on behalf of the parents. The family paid close to 20,000 $ for the non-treatment of their child by the Florida based operator of said massage parlour.

Remarkably, the judge in the case seems to be buying into the postmodern relativism that drives the argument of the Children's Aid Society. Here's what the National Post reports from the trial

"But Justice Gethin Edward of the Ontario Court of Justice suggested physicians essentially want to “impose our world view on First Nation culture.” The idea of a cancer treatment being judged on the basis of statistics that quantify patients’ five-year survival rate is “completely foreign” to aboriginal ways, he said.
“Even if we say there is not one child who has been cured of acute lymphoblastic leukemia by traditional methods, is that a reason to invoke child protection?” asked Justice Edward, noting that the girl’s mother believes she is doing what is best for her daughter.
“Are we to second guess her and say ‘You know what, we don’t care?’ … Maybe First Nations culture doesn’t require every child to be treated with chemotherapy and to survive for that culture to have value.”

This sounds almost farcical. The judge apparently doesn't think child survival is what's at stake, but the value of First Nations society. A nice sentiment so long as you aren't a vulnerable child desperately needing proven medical care. He is also essentialising aboriginality in an indefensible way. Here's what the CBC reports about the logic underlying his decision, 'Edward ruled that the young girl needs protection, but that the court had also to consider how aboriginal family rights apply in the case. As part of that consideration Edward described the traditional Haudenosaunee creation story to point out that the practice of traditional medicine existed before contact with Europeans.' The one thing that clearly doesn't feature at all as a relevant criterion is that thing some call 'scientific evidence'. Creation stories apparently trump that at any time.  - Surely, the essential question here is this: Should we, as a society override parental care decisions for their children in cases where there is overwhelming evidence that they're harming their children irreversibly, or, as in our case, where the children would die almost certainly?

The long and short of it is that we have always done this. The children's (objective) best (survival) interests trump parental best intentions, parental ignorance, parental fanaticism, parental scepticism with regard to mainstream medicine etc etc. Hospitals routinely override parental decisions by Jehova's Witnesses that refuse life-preserving blood transfusions for their children. And they are right to do so. There is no parental right to kill their children, not even with the best of intentions. Anyone recall the cases of children who died because their parents thought prayers would do the trick?

What is not known is whether these two cases (same hospital) are a result of a communications break-down between the health care professionals and the parents. But even if this was the case, it remains shocking that the Children's Aid Society could possibly justify its inaction with the view that the parents were just trying something different. Since when has the life of a child become so cheap that we leave it to misguided parents who wish to do as they see fit, evidence be damned?

The apparent 'justification' here is that it is a First Nations child. If this is a case of trying to make-up for past injustice, let me just say that this isn't quite a sensible way to go about this matter.

Seems a classic 'only in Canada' kind of event where society falls over itself trying to accommodate even the greatest nonsense. Child welfare clearly isn't that much of a priority. I'm glad to see that the hospital where both children would have been successfully treated took this case to court. Only once the courts of the land decide that child welfare isn't a relevant consideration and that parental good intentions intentions and the value of 'aboriginal culture' supersede child welfare concerns, can they make future treatment decisions that override patient well-being concerns.  

I do hope that the hospital will appeal this decision.


  1. One can only hope that this sort of absurdity doesn't spread. I'd guess it won't ... but perhaps that's wishful thinking.

  2. I'm trying to figure out how a Florida massage parlour constitutes Canadian "aboriginal culture" -- the argument doesn't make sense even in its own terms.

    I get that the First Nations have been shat upon by us Europe-derived interlopers in the worst way, and have every understandable reason to not trust The Man. But there have to be limits in how much slack to cut.

  3. I am so ashamed that my country is willing to let a child die, for multiculturalist garbage.

  4. Is this a legacy of Charles Taylor - or something he tried to impede?


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