A recent Connecticut court case caught my eye this week, as I read the headlines about a 17-year-old young woman who is refusing chemotherapy treatment for cancer. The girl and her mother have argued that the so-called “mature minor doctrine” applies, that although she is only a minor, the teen has a right to make medical decisions for herself which are usually reserved for adults. In a desire to pursue alternative forms of therapy for her Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the teen has taken her fight to the state Supreme Court, which has subsequently ruled that she must receive the chemotherapy which her doctors predict has an 80-85% likelihood of success. The reason this story caught my eye has little to do with the wisdom of ignoring the doctor’s advice or with whether the state has the authority to compel someone to receive treatment they do not want. Instead, I would like to offer a few comments on the arguments being offered by the girl’s mother as well as the legal experts who are weighing in on the issue.
The mother, Jackie Fortin, told reporters on Thursday, “This is her decision and her rights, which is what we are here fighting about. We should have choices about what to do with our bodies.” What I find striking about this statement is the similarity between what this woman is saying and what we have been told by abortion advocates for decades – that a woman has a right to decide what to do with her own body, and no one has any legal right to interfere. Since 1973 that concept has been the law of the land. On one hand, this kind of reasoning is used to oppose a life-saving medical treatment, while on the other it is used to propagate the slaughter of millions of pre-born children. The inconsistency of it astounds me, as does the Supreme Court’s decision which reads in part, “the respondents have failed to meet their burden of proving under any standard that Cassandra was a mature minor and capable of acting independently concerning her life threatening medical condition.” In other words, a girl who is only months short of her 18th birthday does not have the maturity to make independent decisions about her own medical care. However, that same teenager could choose to end the life of a child in her womb without parental consent or notification. Apparently, she is mature enough to end another person’s life, but not to decide about how to live her own. The court’s reasoning in these matters is the height of hypocrisy.
But what about the arguments made by the authorities? Well, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families contends that, “under this circumstance…the Department has a clear and urgent responsibility to save the life of this child.” Wouldn’t it be something to cheer about if the Connecticut DCF took this responsibility seriously in the case of every child whose life is threatened, especially those who are still in the womb? One legal analyst remarked, “Do 16- and 17-year-old children have the judgment, the perspective, the discretion, the experience to be making these life and death decisions? I say they do not.” But the Connecticut courts have decided time and again that 16- and 17-year-old children do have the judgment to make life and death decisions, at least when the life at stake is still in the womb.
Now some might say that there is no material connection between this case and the landmark case which overturned all state bans on abortion, but I disagree. In offering a dissenting opinion, then US Supreme Court Justice Byron White said of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that the Court had created “a constitutional barrier to state efforts to protect human life and…[invested] mothers and doctors with the constitutionally protected right to exterminate it.” Since January of 1973, the legal waters surrounding the sanctity of human life have been so muddied that no one is able to offer a straight answer about the state’s role in protecting innocent human life. Instead of clarity, the Court invited confusion, and the recent case in Connecticut is a prime example of the ongoing fallout of the Roe v. Wade decision.
To defend life or to take life – in the Connecticut courts, at least, the same arguments work both ways. In God’s economy, however, human life is sacred because we are made in the image of the Creator. And rather than continue to stumble around in confusion and misguided thinking, we who know Christ are called to love God with all of our mind and to be renewed in the spirit of our mind, so that we can approve what is excellent and protect the most vulnerable in our society whose souls are more valuable than the whole world. Let us know and love and obey God’s truth, standing for righteousness and life in the midst of this dark and turbulent age.