A family court recently ordered a 14-year-old boy to be given chemotherapy and radiation treatment against his will and that of his parents.
“Chemotherapy treatment is required for the minor’s bodily health, and the benefits of immediately starting this treatment are immeasurably greater than the risks it entails,” Tiberias Family Court Judge Vered Ricanati-Roshar wrote in her ruling, issued in response to a request by the attorney general, the Social Affairs Ministry and the local welfare department.
The boy was diagnosed with lymphatic leukemia five years ago and went into remission after receiving chemotherapy. Four months ago, however, the cancer reappeared.
After performing surgery to remove the tumor, doctors at Bnei Zion Medical Center in Haifa said he needed chemotherapy and radiation as well. Two physicians issued medical opinions saying this treatment would give him an excellent chance of recovery. But without this treatment, they warned, the cancer was liable to spread to his bone marrow, which would necessitate much more aggressive and complicated treatment with a much lower chance of success. Thus, delaying treatment would cause the boy great harm and even endanger his life, the doctors wrote.
Nevertheless, the boy’s parents rejected the proposed treatment, saying the tests conducted after the operation showed the tumor had been successfully removed and their son was now healthy. Therefore, there was no urgency about giving him chemotherapy, whereas the treatment would certainly have a negative impact on his emotional health and could even kill him, they said.
Instead, they suggested that they have their son tested at the hospital frequently, and if the cancer recurred, he would start chemotherapy immediately.
They also presented a medical opinion from an oncologist supporting their view that immediate chemotherapy was unnecessary.
The boy himself objected vehemently to chemotherapy, telling a social worker that his last hospitalization had been like “a prison term,” and that he would rather be at home, play with his friends and die than be in the hospital, undergo treatment and then die. He also said he had consulted his rabbi, who told him not to go to the hospital — though the rabbi later submitted a letter saying he hadn’t given the boy any advice, but had merely wished him a full recovery.
Nevertheless, the social worker dismissed the boy’s objections, telling the court she thought he was merely repeating things he had heard from people around him without understanding their significance.
Attorney Yakov Mor Yosef, representing the boy, countered that in a case like this, where medical experts disagree about the risks and benefits of a given treatment and the patient isn’t terminally ill, the patient’s wishes should be respected.
The court then appointed its own medical expert, who sided unequivocally with the Bnei Zion doctors. Nevertheless, the boy and his parents remained opposed.
In her ruling, Ricanati-Roshar stressed that the parents were “devoted parents who, throughout all the years of the boy’s illness, did everything possible to help their son and bring about a complete recovery.”
Nevertheless, she said, both the court’s own expert and the Bnei Zion doctors who treated the boy agreed that he wasn’t yet cured, that the cancer still existed and would likely spread without treatment, and that waiting until it did so would necessitate more aggressive treatment while reducing the chances of a cure by 40 to 80 percent. Under these circumstances, the judge wrote, she was forced to conclude that immediate chemotherapy was necessary for the boy’s health, and that the objections of the boy and his parents did not constitute sufficient grounds for delaying treatment.