The child’s well-being has to be balanced against rights to traditional medicine

Remember? The ruling by Justice Gethin Edward of the Ontario Court of Justice that it was ok for parents to take their child off chemotherapy for leukemia because they’re First Nations people  and

Maybe First Nations culture doesn’t require every child to be treated with chemotherapy and to survive for that culture to have value.

Well now he’s “clarified” that ruling.

The clarification of a controversial court ruling that allowed the mother of an 11-year-old First Nations girl to pull her out of chemotherapy says the best interests of the child are “paramount,” but traditional medicine must be respected.

It is a “significant qualification” of Ontario court Judge Gethin Edward’s November 2014 ruling, according to one legal expert, which means the child’s well-being has to be balanced against rights to traditional medicine.

That’s still contemptible. There shouldn’t be any “right” for parents to withhold effective medical treatment from children, even if they’re doing it for reasons of “tradition” or any other kind of humbug.

Nick Bala, a law professor at Queen’s University, says the clarification “walks back” the original ruling that put First Nations constitutional rights as the major factor to be considered in the care of the child.

The clarification, read in a Brantford, Ont. court Friday afternoon, comes with news the child restarted chemotherapy in March when the cancer returned after a period of remission.

Let’s hope it didn’t start too late to work.

The controversial case began last September when J.J.’s mother pulled her daughter out of chemotherapy, taking her to the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida.

Up to that point, McMaster Children’s Hospital had been treating her in conjunction with the family’s use of traditional medicine. At the time, the mother told CBC News she believed chemotherapy was “poison.”

The hospital tried to get J.J. declared as a child in need of protection after Brant Family and Child Services made it clear they would not step in.

Last year, the court ruled in favour of allowing the Six Nations mother, dismissing the hospital’s case, and said in its decision it was her constitutional right to pursue indigenous medicine.

“It is this court’s conclusion therefore, that [the mother’s] decision to pursue traditional medicine for her daughter J.J. is her aboriginal right,” reads the original ruling from November. “Further, such a right cannot be qualified as a right only if it is proven to work by employing the Western medical paradigm. To do so would be to leave open the opportunity to perpetually erode aboriginal rights.”

“The Western medical paradigm” – meaning the one that is known to have a good rate of success with this particular leukemia. And it’s not “Western” – the word to contrast it with “traditional” should be “technological” or “evidence-based” or “effective” or similar. The issue is not geography and it’s not even politics. It’s not even an opposition: evidence-based medicine is happy to use “traditional” treatments that have been demonstrated to be effective. There’s no valid reason to reject effective medical treatment for children on the basis that it’s not “traditional” enough. (There’s no valid reason for adults to do that either, but at least it’s their own lives they’re playing with.)


  1. Jean says

    Is it traditional to take your child to Florida for treatments? I’m sure there a long tradition in the First Nations for this…

    That’s not a tradition issue but rather a woo-based medicine versus evidence-based medicine.

  2. Trebuchet says

    You know what they call traditional medicine that works? Medicine. (An oldy but a goody,)

    I Googled “Hippocrates Health Institute” but didn’t have the stomach to read all the various reports of their quackery. But apparently Joe Mercola likes them!

  3. karmacat says

    If the parents started the child on chemotherapy to begin with they don’t really believe in “traditional” medicine

  4. rietpluim says

    Maybe I’m being too sensitive but I can’t help to see a bit of racism here. Would the ruling be the same if it was a white kid?

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