Courts cannot protect ill First Nations children: Manitoba ethicist

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/11/2014 (2876 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

 

A Manitoba medical ethicist argued Friday that a court ruling in Ontario seems to mean courts retain the right to protect children in need of medical care, except if the children are First Nations.

Professor Arthur Schafer, director of the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, said a decision Friday by an Ontario judge in Brantford, Ont., turned the tables on children’s rights to health care, at least for now.

Ontario Court Justice Gethin Edward rejected an application Friday to remove a girl, 11, from her family for chemotherapy and instead upheld the right of the family to use aboriginal medicine. The family is First Nations from near Brantford.

The case has no immediate impact in Manitoba, a province with a massive child welfare system where aboriginal children make up the majority of the approximately 10,000 kids in care.

Schafer said he expects the Ontario case will be appealed.

“And possibly overturned on appeal,” he said. “Depending on how long that process takes, it may be too late for the girl.”

The decision pits the country’s protections of First Nations’ rights against children’s rights to timely medical intervention, effectively creating two standards of health care for children.

“The first implication is that Canadian children in need of care and protection will be protected by the courts, except when they are First Nations children,” Schafer said.

“This decision establishes the right of First Nations children to die unnecessarily.”

In an unrelated, but similar case, the First Nations family of another girl, Makayla Sault, also 11, refused chemotherapy in favour of aboriginal and alternative treatment. Both are reported to have sought treatment at the same Florida institute.

The second child is reported to be critically ill and close to death.

The condition of the child whose court case was the subject of the ruling is not known but she is believed to be stable. The child, whose identity is protected under a publication ban, has reportedly also rejected chemotherapy.

The two cases have sparked debate in legal and medical circles far beyond Ontario’s borders but Friday’s court decision stretched the debate to a breaking point.

First Nations chiefs hailed the decision outside court on Friday and said it has broad implications.

McMaster Health Sciences physicians had asked the Children’s Aid Society to ask the courts to remove the child from her parents’ care so they could intervene with chemotherapy.

Doctors accepted the verdict quietly and left the court without comment.

The family had opted to take the child to West Palm Beach Florida for alternative treatment at the Hippocrates Health Institute.

“The mother has spent $18,000 taking the child to a massage therapy clinic where she’s been given organic vegetables and carrot juice and trained to think positively,” Schafer said.

Further complicating the case is the obvious love the mother has for her daughter, Schafer said.

“But a family’s right to make medical decisions on behalf of their child is not absolute. If the family makes a decision that the physicians regard as unloving or as wildly unreasonable, then the physicians can go to court.” Schafer said.

Except if they’re First Nations, Schafer said.

“It means that unlike other children, aboriginal children whose parents make a blatantly unreasonable decision, will not be protected by the courts.”

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

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