The 17-year-old patient who was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma and forced into chemotherapy has shown the first signs of being in remission.
Assistant public defender Joshua Michtom represented the teen, known only as Cassandra C, when her case went to the Connecticut Supreme Court last year.
He told BuzzFeed News that despite having to undergo treatment against her wishes, the Connecticut teen is thankful to be showing signs of improvement.
"She's definitely glad that the chemo is working and that she's well," he said. "She wants to finish treatment. She's not resisting anymore."
The next obstacle Cassandra, her family, and her lawyers will face is convincing the courts to allow her to return home.
The judge believed Cassandra was at risk of imminent harm, Michtom said, and in November the Department of Children and Families took custody away from her mother, Jackie Fortin, and handed her care over to the state.
"Now, she has said repeatedly that she wants to complete the treatment, and the state Department of Children and Families believes her," Michtom said. "On top of that, she's in remission, so even if she didn't finish her last months of chemo, she'd still not be in great harm."
Cassandra and her mother requested a hearing in Juvenile Court next week, where their lawyers will argue for the DCF to end its custody so that she can return home with her family.
Michtom said Cassandra's primary goal at this point is not merely survival, but a return to her life before the litigation began.
"She had a job, contributed to family finances. She was a regular almost-grownup," he said. "She's been removed from that life for almost six months. All she's looking for is a chance to get back to her normal life."
The Connecticut Supreme Court ordered Cassandra to continue chemotherapy treatment on January 8.
The 17-year-oldwas diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in September but refused to undergo chemotherapy, court documents say.
In an exclusive interview with the Associated Press in January, Cassandra said she understood that she would die without the treatment, but that it should ultimately be her decision.
"Being forced into the surgery and chemo has traumatized me," Cassandra wrote in her text to the AP. "I do believe I am mature enough to make the decision to refuse the chemo, but it shouldn't be about maturity, it should be a given human right to decide what you want and don't want for your own body."
She also said she believes in "the quality of my life, not the quantity."
According to the Mayo Clinic, Cassandra's disease is more rare than the other common type of cancer of the lymphatic system, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
The Hartford Courant reported that Cassandra has an 80% to 85% chance of survival if she undergoes chemotherapy treatments. However, after she was diagnosed, Cassandra decided not to undergo treatment.
Her mother, Jackie Fortin, told the Hartford Courant that her daughter's choice was not religiously motivated and she did not influence her daughter's decision.
"It's her constitutional right — she doesn't want poison and toxins put in her body," Fortin said. "It's her choice, and I support her decision."
Fox CT reported that Fortin slammed the decision after it was announced.
In November, a judge granted an order by the state’s Department of Children and Families to obtain temporary custody of Cassandra and compel her mother to comply with cancer treatments recommended by the department’s doctors.
After undergoing two rounds of chemotherapy, Cassandra ran away from home. When she returned, a trial court ordered Cassandra removed from her home and gave the DCF authority to make medical decisions on her behalf.
Fortin and Cassandra argued that the court's ruling violated their constitutional rights and that they should be allowed to make their own decisions as long as neither of them has been declared unfit.
They asked the state to invoke the "mature minor doctrine," a common law principle that allows minors to make their own decisions if they are deemed to have the maturity to do so.
“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,'” Fortin’s attorney, Michael Taylor, told Fox CT.
The DCF said in a statement to the Hartford Courant that the agency was obligated to intervene to save Cassandra's life.
"[E]ven if the decision might result in criticism; we have an obligation to protect the life of the child when there is consensus among the medical experts," the statement said.
Cassandra’s case is not the first instance of a family fighting the government over cancer treatments.
In 2009, CNN reported that a judge ordered the parents of 13-year-old Daniel Hauser to comply with chemotherapy treatments for the boy's Hodgkin's lymphoma. The boy's mother, Colleen, fled with him for a week in order to seek alternative treatment, but eventually returned him home.
In 2013, the Associated Press reported a judge ruled that an 11-year-old Ohio girl would be appointed a guardian to make medical decisions on her behalf after her parents refused to let her undergo chemotherapy treatments for leukemia.
However, the next year, a judge allowed the guardian to resign, according to the Medina Gazette. The girl's Amish parents told the court their daughter was doing well after being treated in Mexico, Canada, and Tennessee.
Stephanie McNeal is a social news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Stephanie McNeal at email@example.com.
Tamerra Griffin is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based Nairobi, Kenya.
Contact Tamerra Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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