An Aboriginal Perspective on the Decision to Take 11-Year-Old Girl Off Chemo in Favour of Traditional Medicine

by | November 26, 2014

Update: I was confused about two related cases. It is Makayla Sault who had the fundamentalist Christian parents. The CBC show, White Coat, Black Art did a show on her case which is identical to this girl’s as she is an Aboriginal child with leukaemia whose parents stopped her treatment in favour of receiving treatment in Florida. Sadly but predictably, Makayla is now critically ill. I have updated the article with this information.

Wayne K. Spear has written about the 11-year-old-Brantford-area-girl whose parents, after her case was brought to court, took her off the chemotherapy treatment she was receiving for leukaemia, at McMaster Children’s Hospital, in favour of traditional medicine.  My earlier article about this case concentrated on the fact that the chemotherapy gave the child a 99% survival rate while this so-called traditional medicine (actually wooish treatment from a charlatan in Florida) assures her death.

I was pleased to see that Spear’s article agrees about the non-traditional woo aspect of the treatment. Spear writes:

From my point of view it would be gratifying to see the cause of indigenous rights asserted on something actually indigenous, rather than upon the creative practices of a Florida massage therapist or the proposal that Jesus cures. In some hospitals, an intergrationst (sic) approach has been taken, in which elders and cultural potocols (sic) have been brought into the institution. Belief in a culture doesn’t have to manifest itself in absolutist choices between supposed cultural purity and betrayal. Unless, I suppose, one is an absolutist.

Spear continues:

This campaign — a mixture of Christianity, alternative medicines, New Age dabbling, and traditional herbs — strikes me as an abuse of cultural integrity, rather than its defence. Unfortunately I’ve arrived too late: Justice Gethin Edward has already given the business a seal of approval.

Moreover, Spear also speaks about Makala Sault, the Aboriginal girl who, like this girl, has leukaemia and like this girl was taken off chemotherapy and given “traditional medicine”. What didn’t get much attention in the media is “the belief and active prominence of the parents in a fundamentalist Christian sect that teaches the merits of faith healing.” Sadly but predictably, Makayla is now critically ill.

Spear speaks about the complexity around the broken relationship with First Nations, Children’s Services (booted out of Oshweken) and more. I urge you to read his article; he has some good and accurate insights.

Referenced article: Why Does the Fight For Aboriginal Rights Equal a Rejection of Science? | Wayne K. Spear.

h/t My Ontario Atheist Network

8 thoughts on “An Aboriginal Perspective on the Decision to Take 11-Year-Old Girl Off Chemo in Favour of Traditional Medicine

  1. Heather Hastie

    Yes, excellent follow-up, and even better (or worse, depending on your perspective) than the first article.

    It’s good to see the point you made before – that this isn’t even traditional medicine – being picked up.

    Some will accuse me of melodrama, but this child is effectively being murdered by her parents, with the collusion and even approval of others. This poor kid is a victim of extremist religion in the same way as those murdered by DAESH.

  2. Diana MacPherson Post author

    I realized I was confusing the two separate cases – Makayla Sault has the fundamentalist Christian parents. I’ve added an updated explanation at the top of the post & I’ve updated the article. It’s sad, but Makayla is now critically ill.

  3. billybob

    How is fundamentalist christianity aboriginal?

    Thought it was an import, did jesus appear to the natives
    1000 years ago? Then came back to visit Joseph Smith?

  4. 12345

    I’ve followed this case a little bit, and my impression is it’s at least as much about the side effects of chemo as it is about religion per se. Her parents originally had her on chemo, it had horrific side effects (as chemo often does), and she begged to be taken off; they then decided to support her in that. It’s unclear to me exactly how large a role the ‘faith healing’ had in that decision – if it was actually a major part of the original motive to stop chemo, or if it was a choice that was made after they had pretty much made up their minds they wanted to quit chemo, or if it was somewhere in between, with the side effects being the original motivation but the belief that the experimental treatments could work fogging the issue and making it harder for her to understand the choice she was making. It does seem significant to me that she was originally on chemo, though, and that all the ‘alternative healing’ stuff only came up after she experienced the horrible side effects.

    I have some ambivalence on this. On the one hand, chemo has quite high success rates for kids in her position (though a significant minority still die), and not taking chemo means pretty much certainly dying soon. On the other hand – well, if I had a dog who had even 80% or 90% odds or whatever but I had to put them through that degree of hell first, I can actually easily imagine deciding that the end goal of extending life didn’t justify the torture I was putting the uncomprehending dog through. And I can imagine some competent adults making that choice for themselves too, though almost everyone does choose the short term hellish treatment for the long term high likelihood of longer life (even when odds are less good than here, treatment rates are very high). But few people would support forcing an adult to undergo chemo if they refused it – we would say that it’s their life and only they can decide how they want to live it or what they’re willing to endure.

    There are extremely good reasons we see things differently with children than with either animals or adult humans, but I’m not sure where precisely to draw the line. We allow adults to decide if the ends justify the means when it comes to debilitating treatment, but how young is too young to make that decision? Counsellors spoke to the girl and the judge ultimately ruled that she was competent to decide, but how do we know what that means? And how much did her faith in alternative methods cloud the issue? And how much of it was just that she was not as afraid of death as some people (which she also stated in some interviews – so she did at least understand that death was a real possibility). How much did those things influence her parents’ choice to stop forcing her to take the treatments? Would they otherwise have sided with the doctors or would they have seriously considered her begging to be taken off anyway? Etc.


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