Last week, the case of a Connecticut teenager, identified as Cassandra C., 17, made headlines. Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Cassandra wanted to forgo chemotherapy altogether—a decision her mother reportedly supported. But in early January, child services took the 17-year-old into custody and on Jan. 8 the state Supreme Court denied the teenager’s request to not receive the drugs.
The state’s interference in a personal decision about health care provides a rare lens into when and how health officials can mandate health care. Forced treatment is rare, but it happens when people, most often minors and the mentally ill, find themselves in extenuating circumstances.
“We subscribe to the principle that people should get to make decisions for themselves almost all the time,” says Paul S. Appelbaum, a psychiatry, medicine and law professor at Columbia University. “The exceptions to that rule are rare. What we’re seeing play out in Connecticut is really…
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