I had thought about writing about the following case earlier but I was so annoyed that I was completely unmotivated to do so. Happily, Jerry Coyne wrote about it at WEIT but I’ll add my thoughts here as well. I am of course talking about the case of a First Nations child whose parents decided to take her off the chemotherapy treatment she was receiving for leukaemia, at McMaster Children’s Hospital, in favour of traditional medicine. The chemotherapy treatment gave her a 90-95% survival rate.
The hospital appealed to the courts to compel the Brant Children’s Aid Society to force her to resume her chemotherapy treatment, however Judge Gethin Edward ruled otherwise:
I cannot find that J.J. is a child in need of protection when her substitute decision-maker has chosen to exercise her constitutionally protected right to pursue their traditional medicine over the Applicant’s stated course of treatment of chemotherapy.
So, the child will most likely die. What I find ironic, however, is that the child is taking treatment from a charlatan in Florida who is administering vitamin drinks and raw food diets as his cancer cure.
In a video obtained by CBC News, Clement says his institute teaches people to “heal themselves” from cancer by eating raw, organic vegetables and having a positive attitude.
So, how is this traditional medicine? In other words, if the court, wrongly, believes that the child should have a constitutionally protected right to pursue traditional medicine, why is she pursuing some quack’s fake cure in Florida? How is that traditional?
Lastly, how is this court case consistent with how Canada has dealt with similar challenges in the past? In 2009, a Jehovah Witness girl’s case was dismissed when she claimed her rights were violated when she was forced to receive a life-saving blood transfusion. Indeed, the
Supreme Court ruled that such medical interventions are constitutionally sound, striking a balance between the choice of the child and the state’s protection of the child.
So is it different for First Nations children? It appears so. This is a despicable miscarriage of justice that has damned this child to die a slow, agonizing death. Shame on you Judge Edward.
Unbelievable, one big face palm!
This is a disgrace. Canada is complicit in murder.
Excellent summary Diana. It is unbelievable to me that this has happened in a country like Canada. I hope somebody is in a position to appeal the decision.
I’m pretty sure the courts would disallow traditional medicine from my ancestors in Great Britton. Bleeding leukaemia patients would just be wrong.
Bearing in mind that I don’t really grok the complex relationship between Canada and the First Nations: As far as I understand it, the ruling really does *NOT* have anything to do with traditional aboriginal beliefs, and certainly nothing to do with saying they’re “better” than other traditional beliefs. There is a lot of misinformation and confusion being spread about this. Canadian courts have always ruled for child welfare over faith, and that has not changed. What happened in this ruling was something different.
What the court basically ruled was that Canadian authorities have no jurisdiction over First Nations people in certain matters (which would include band governance, whatever happens on reservations, and so on), and one of those matters is the choice to use traditional medicine. First Nations people get special treatment under the law because First Nations are technically sovereign nations that Canada has treaties with. J.J. and Makayla Sault are going to die because they and their guardians are First Nations, not because traditional aboriginal beliefs are special in any way; if the girls or their guardians weren’t First Nations, then the girls would be on their way to chemo right now, no matter how hard they or their guardians insisted on getting “alternative” treatments, including even traditional aboriginal ones. Put another way (with some exaggeration), what the court basically ruled was *NOT* that it is okay for Canadians to murder their kids with faith healing so long as it is “traditional aboriginal”, but rather that Canadian courts cannot force Japanese citizens in Japan to follow Canadian laws (because First Nations people are First Nations citizens, and are only subject to the Canadian laws that the treaties specify, and exempt from others).
As several people have noted, the “traditional medicine” thing is really bullshit. J.J. is apparently getting “treatment” from a new age alt-med quack in Florida, and as for Makayla Sault the “traditional beliefs” killing her are not aboriginal at all; both of her parents are Christian pastors. They’re only using the language of claiming “traditional aboriginal medicine” to get away with murder. But none of that matters, because the court wasn’t about to rule on whether this or that treatment is genuinely traditional aboriginal medicine. The court just said that, whatever “traditional aboriginal medicine” might be, Canadian courts cannot take away the rights of First Nations people to pursue it.
This case is different from what we here at Canadian Atheist are used to. It is not a failure of secularism or of faith getting special treatment. It is a jurisdiction issue. Our courts and our laws are working quite well, and have consistently handled similar situations involving faith-healing splendidly. Raging angrily against Judge Edward, or Canadian courts or lawmakers in general, or trying to shame them or calling them “complicit in murder”, is wrong and a waste of time. And I’m not sure we want to be the people saying the solution is for Canadian courts to simply give the finger to First Nations’ autonomy, rights, and freedoms. The person to rage at is probably Ghislain Picard, head of the Assembly of First Nations, or to whatever band council J.J.’s parents answer to. This is *their* problem to deal with, and the right solution is to get *them* to do something sane about it, not for Canada to trample over their authority.
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