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Connecticut teen forced to undergo chemo against her wishes

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HARTFORD--It's a case pitting a 17-year-old girl with cancer against the state of Connecticut: she's being forced to undergo chemotherapy against her will, and now the case is going to the state Supreme Court.

She's only identified as "Cassandra C." in court papers to protect her privacy, but the 17-year-old's case could soon become known nationwide.

Cassandra was diagnosed with cancer in September 2014. Doctors said she had Hodgkins Lymphoma, a rare condition--not to be confused with non-hodgkins lymphoma. Physicians recommended chemotherapy.

But the teen refused the treatment, and her mother supported that decision.

According to the National Cancer Institute, side effects of chemo can include hair loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue and pain.

After rejecting treatment, Connecticut's Department of Children and Families became involved and determined Cassandra needed the treatment.

DCF successfully petitioned the court for temporary custody of the teen, and she was taken out of her home and forced to receive the chemo.

"It's a question of fundamental constitutional rights--the right to have a say over what happens to your body--and the right to say to the government 'you can't control what happens to my body,'" said Cassandra's mother's attorney, Michael S. Taylor. Taylor represents Cassandra's mother, while a state public defender represents Cassandra.

Taylor argues that Cassandra is mature enough to make the decision to reject treatments.

He will attempt to persuade the state's Supreme Court justices to adopt the "mature minor doctrine," a provision that a few other states have as well that deems certain minors capable of making major decisions on their own.

"That really ought to be up to Cassandra. It ought not to be for the state to jump in and say 'well, regardless of your decision, we think we know better,'" said Taylor.

Taylor filed an emergency appeal and the state's Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in a matter of weeks, which is a rarity--it often takes months before a case reaches the state's top justices.

Taylor argues that in a state where you can drive at age 16, have an abortion without parental consent before age 18 and be charged as "an adult" if you commit a crime under 18, that a 17-year-old should have control over his or her own body.

"You're balancing a serious need for treatment against her fundamental right to say what goes on with her body," said Taylor.

Neither Cassandra or her mother were available for comment.

Fox CT reached out to DCF for the agency's side of the story. "We're not going to comment, it's in the hands of the judicial system at this point," said spokesman Josh Howroyd.

Cassandra's case will be heard Thursday, Jan. 8 at the Connecticut Supreme Court in Hartford. Until then, court papers indicate that she remains in a local hospital and is undergoing chemo treatments against her wishes.

"The Supreme Court of the state has never ruled on this issue, the Supreme Court of the United States has not ruled on this issue. So it's very significant not just for our client, and for the minor child, but for the law in general," said Taylor.

The case could have major implications not only for Cassandra and her family, but potentially for children across the state and perhaps across the country.

To protect her privacy, no photos or videos of Cassandra will be shown.

If her attorneys are successful, it appears the chemo treatment could be stopped as soon as the Supreme Court issues a ruling.


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