Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, January 23, 2015

Canadian First Nations Rights

"Any right, aboriginal or other, by its very nature carries with it the obligation to use it responsibly. It cannot be used, for example, in a way which harms people, aboriginal or non-aboriginal."
1996 Supreme Court of Canada finding in Van der Peet vs the Queen
Makayla Sault, 11, shown performing a dance routine at an event in Ohsweken last May, died Monday of what her parents say was a stroke, nearly a year after she was taken off chemotherapy for leukemia.
Barry Gray / The Hamilton Spectator    Makayla Sault, 11, shown performing a dance routine at an event in Ohsweken last May, died Monday of what her parents say was a stroke, nearly a year after she was taken off chemotherapy for leukemia.

It seems somehow not quite within reason that children under Ontario's Health Care Consent Act may be given the right to determine how they wish medical treatment to proceed for their particular malady. Are young children capable of weighing options and possibilities to arrive at a wise decision for their future well-being? But they may do so when an authority figure feels that child's judgemental capacity appears to understand "the reasonably foreseeable consequences of a decision or lack of decision".

And so it was that an eleven year-old leukemia victim (acute lymphoblastic leukemia), Makayla Sault of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation had her personal determination to halt the chemotherapy regimen -- which was the only treatment that could be 80% to 90% certain to preserve her young life -- respected. Pediatric oncologists at McMaster Children's Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario, attempted to persuade the child and the child's mother that to withdraw from that treatment was a death sentence.

The doctors appealed to the Brant Family and Children's Services, and its executive director, Andrew Koster made the determination that he and the child protection service would not prosecute the case because it was felt that the child's well-being was well placed in the loving care of her parents, evangelical Christian pastors. And that the little girl was convinced that an apparition of Jesus had appeared to her while she was in hospital, assuring her that he had cured her, spoke to the depth of faith within the family.

This, despite that the hospital's doctors had carefully explained to Makayla Sault's family that her leukemia could be cured only through the treatment of chemotherapy. Without that treatment death would be certain to follow, and fairly soon. As for the regional child services, even with that knowledge, they held fast to their position of non-interference in the case because "their choice to use traditional medicines was within their right". The family had "eloquently exercised her indigenous rights as a First Nations person."

And in exercising their rights the little girl was taken by her family to the Hippocrates Health Institute of West Palm Beach, Florida where she underwent the life-saving course for victims of cancer. Such as exposure to and treatment through aroma-therapy, wheatgrass enemas, acupuncture and naturopathic massage. The family paid $18,000 in their zeal to treat the child in a manner that would accord with what her body required to heal itself.

The Hippocrates Health Institute had successfully sold itself to the parents as a sole-source curing agency for any dire ills besetting the human body. This enterprise, licensed by the state as a massage parlour, advertises itself as the premier source for therapies known to cure cancer among other sever diseases like Lou Gehrig's disease.

The little girl considered herself cured of leukemia and assured anyone who might be interested that she had recovered, and the memory of her dreadful time coping with the initial stages of chemotherapy was all behind her as she looked forward to her future. Her future arrived with a suddenness that surprised the family, as the cancer, in remission thanks to the initial chemotherapy regimen, stormed back into her body with a vengeance. That vengeance took her life.

Oncologists explain the stroke that Makayla suffered which led to her death on Monday as the common result of leukemia left untreated by chemotherapy. As they mourn their dreadful loss, Makayla's parents ascribe her death to the ruinous effects on her body viscera by the chemotherapy treatments that Makayla had found so excruciatingly painful.

If there is a moral to this story it is an elusive one. In paying obeisance to Native culture and values Canadian society dares not offend First Nations by informing them that science trumps hocus-pocus. To do so is to invite a popular uprising of Canadian aboriginals declaring that the contempt in which their culture and their history is held is unbearable, and they must be permitted to honour their past and live as their ancestors did.

And so, they do.

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