Court sides with DCF, teen will remain in custody for forced chemotherapy

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HARTFORD -- A Windsor Locks teen  faced a judge in Connecticut State Supreme court Thursday after she's been forced to undergo chemotherapy against her will. She is identified as Cassandra C. in court papers, and she believes she should be allowed to make her own health care decisions even though she’s a minor.

After roughly one hour of arguments, the court sided with Department of Children and Families and determined she must remain in state custody to continue forced chemotherapy.

The teen's mother addressed the media after the hearing.

"We're not saying we wouldn't do treatment. We weren't allowed to go get and seek a second opinion and get other options and to look at other options besides chemo," said Jackie Fortin, Cassandra's mother.

Cassandra's attorneys wanted the justices to consider the "mature minor doctrine," a policy that has been invoked in other states that essentially allows those under 18 to make crucial health decisions on their own.

The sticking point on Thursday was whether it had been proven, let alone discussed, whether Cassandra was of sufficient maturity for such decisions.

"If she's sufficiently mature to make decisions as if she was 18 or 19 or 20, then the state has no interest in undermining her fundamental rights," said attorney Michael Taylor during the proceedings.

Taylor said he was hired by the state's Office of the Public Defender to represent Cassandra's mother, Jackie.

John Tucker, the attorney representing the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, argued that after running away to avoid chemo treatments, Cassandra's actions did not demonstrate maturity. "The choices that this child was making were irrational and not in her best interest," said Tucker.

The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that not enough evidence existed from the lower court proceedings about Cassandra's maturity level. For example, a full psychological evaluation was never completed. Without sufficient proof or prior discussion of maturity, the Supreme Court justices argued they couldn't act on the mature minor doctrine, but they also didn't rule out the possibility of invoking it in the future.

"They left the door open that in the proper circumstances and with the proper evidence, they might recognize the doctrine which would allow a minor of 16 or 17 years old to make those critical healthcare decisions on their own," said Jay Sicklick, deputy director of the Center for Children's Advocacy.

Cassandra did not attend the hearing. She remains in the hospital and will continue receiving forced chemotherapy as a result of Thursday's ruling.

Her mother remained steadfast in her support of what she called "her daughter's decision."

"I wouldn't let my daughter die. She doesn't want to die. But she should have a choice and an option of what treatment she wants for this cancer, how she wants to treat it, where she wants to get treated," said Fortin.

DCF released the following statement in response to the ruling:

We thank the Connecticut Supreme Court for its extremely prompt decision, which will allow us to continue to provide the medical treatment that will save Cassandra’s life. This is a curable illness, and we will continue to ensure that Cassandra receives the treatment she needs to become a healthy and happy adult.

The teen's mother says her daughter is mature and "this was a mistake." She also said that more hearings could be coming.

Cassandra was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in September. Afterwards she underwent chemotherapy for three weeks, but then changed her mind and decided she didn't want it. That’s when the DCF stepped in and took her into its custody. A trial court judge granted custody of Cassandra to DCF and has forced her to undergo chemotherapy.

Cassandra’s attorneys argued that the state shouldn't be able to substitute its judgment for her judgment as long as she’s mature enough to understand what is going on and make a reasonable decision. State officials said they have responsibility to protect Cassandra’s life.

Related Links:

Mother defends daughter’s decision to reject chemo treatments

Connecticut teen forced to undergo chemo against her wishes

Our live blog and live stream has ended. Follow the tweets below to see how the court proceeding unfolded.

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