The Ethical Dilemma of Forced Chemotherapy on a Teen

January 13, 2015 9:18 PM

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The case of Cassandra C., a 17-year-old in Connecticut who refused to continue receiving chemotherapy to treat her Hodgkin's lymphoma, poses a genuine ethical dilemma. The dilemma stems from a conflict between two leading ethical principles. One principle, respect for autonomy, calls for respecting individuals' right to self-determination. In the medical context, that means allowing people to refuse medical treatment, even lifesaving therapy. The other ethical principle, beneficence, directs physicians and hospitals to maximize benefits and minimize harms in caring for patients.

The problem in Cassandra's case is that she is still legally a minor, which means that a parent or guardian has the legal authority to make health care decisions on her behalf. But unlike problematic cases in which parents and their offspring disagree about medical treatment, Cassandra's mother uphe...

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