Canadian government kills First Nations girl out of misguided respect for faith

January 20, 2015 • 11:13 am

The Canadian government has often treated its indigenous people horribly, including taking kids from their family and sticking them in special residential “Indian schools” where they were forbidden to use their language or learn about their culture, and where they were often horribly abused. I saw one of these schools, now closed, when I was in Kamloops last year for the Imagine No Religion conference. Hearing the story, I was horrified.

So, in an admirable effort to make up for past misdeeds, Canada has made a number of accommodations to the people of the “First Nations”, as they call them. But this time they’ve gone too far, and have failed to remove children from their homes when they should have. These children are ill with cancer, and the government endorses “traditional” methods of healing, which inevitably lead to death. The government’s failure to insist on modern medical treatment for First Nations children has caused the death of one girl, and will soon cause the death of another. As the title of this post indicates, I consider this equivalent to murder, or at least manslaughter, for these deaths are entirely predictable and in many cases were preventable.

If that sounds harsh, it’s because I’m hopping mad over this kind of stuff. Courts in the US and now Canada have for far too long respected parents’ (and brainwashed children’s) desire to reject Western medicine in favor of faith healing or “alternative” (i.e., useless) medicine. In nearly every state in the U.S., parents who refuse medical care for their children on religious grounds get serious legal breaks compared to parents who also reject that care but on non-religious grounds. It’s an unconscionable kowtowing to faith, something I’d expect in America but not in Canada, which has always seemed more sensible (and less religious) to me.

The child who was just killed by Canada was Makayla Sault, an 11-year-old member of the Mississauga tribe of the New Credit First Nation in Ontario. She was suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and died yesterday after the courts refused to intervene and continue her chemotherapy. Her parents took her to a quack institute in Florida for bogus treatment, and there she passed away. Here are the salient facts as reported by both the CBC News and The Globe and Mail.

But first, here’s Makayla while she was alive. Click on the screenshot below to go to the CBC article and a video report on her death:

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 8.17.41 AM

Makayla had a good chance of surviving had she continued treatment.  As the CBC notes:

Makayla was given a 75 per cent chance of survival when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in March. She underwent 11 weeks of chemotherapy at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton.

Her parents were religious (both were pastors) and chose to discontinue treatment in favor of alternative treatments. They don’t regret their decision that lead to her death. Again from the CBC:

After Makayla said she had a vision of Jesus in the hospital, she wrote a letter to her doctors asking to stop treatment.

“I am writing this letter to tell you that this chemo is killing my body and I cannot take it anymore.”

She left chemotherapy treatment while in remission to pursue alternative and traditional indigenous medicine.

And from the Globe and Mail:

Makayla, who suffered from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, stopped chemotherapy in May because of the side effects of the drug. She had told her parents, Ken and Sonya Sault, who are pastors, that Christ had appeared in her hospital room to tell her she was healed.

. . . Mr. LaForme said her parents are holding up well considering their loss and do not regret taking Makayla off chemotherapy.

“From Day One they have never regretted the decision,” he said. “As a matter of fact, they wish that they had never even gone through the chemo in the first place.”

I’ve studied many of these cases—they figure largely in the last chapter of my Faith versus Fact—and one common feature of parents whose children die after they receive faith healing or alternative medicine is this: a curious lack of parental affect and regret. “I am a good parent,” they often say. They’re not; they’re ignorant parents who, if they really wanted to save the child’s life, would do the proper legwork.  In fact:

The parents self-servingly blame Makayla’s death on the chemotherapy. From the CBC:

“Makayla was on her way to wellness, bravely fighting toward holistic well-being after the harsh side-effects that 12 weeks of chemotherapy inflicted on her body,” the family statement reads. “Chemotherapy did irreversible damage to her heart and major organs. This was the cause of the stroke.”

They were wrong. Here’s a counter-statement from the same article:

Although her family claims her death was due to chemotherapy, in September, a McMaster oncologist testified that Makayla had suffered a relapse. The doctor also testified that there are no known cases of survival of ALL without a full course of chemotherapy treatment.

And here’s a comment below the CBC story. (I’m not a doctor but show this so that any physician reading this can comment):

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 9.45.13 AM

Makayla, and another Ontario First Nations child ill with leukemia, were treated at a quack Florida clinic. From the CBC:

In July, Makayla travelled to the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida and took its three-week “life transformation program.” A CBC investigation revealed that Hippocrates is licensed as a “massage establishment,” and is being sued by former staff who allege the company’s president Brian Clement is operating “a scam under Florida law” and practising medicine without a licence. 

The other sick child, “J. J.”, is being “treated” at the clinic, and this is what the treatment involves:

In an interview with CBC News, [J.J.’s] mother said, “This was not a frivolous decision I made. Before I took her off chemo, I made sure that I had a comprehensive health-care plan that I was very confident that was going to achieve ridding cancer of her body before I left the hospital. This is not something I think may work, this is something I know will work.”

The girl’s mother said her daughter received cold laser therapy, Vitamin C injections and a strict raw food diet, among other therapies at Hippocrates.

Yeah, that’s some “comprehensive health care plan.” Raw food and cold lasers can totally cure leukemia!

The Canadian Medical Association Journal approves of Makayla’s “treatment.” This is perhaps the most odious part of the whole mess, for Canada’s premier medical association has approved what the parents and government did to this poor child. As The Globe and Mail reports:

Makayla died on the same day that an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) said the country’s health-care system must respect aboriginal healing traditions, which are deeply valued ancestral practices.

Authors Lisa Richardson, an internal medicine specialist who is a leader of the University of Toronto’s office of indigenous medical education, and Matthew Stanbrook, a respirologist and deputy editor of the CMAJ, wrote that many indigenous Canadians feel unwelcome or unsafe in regular medical institutions.

“To make medical treatment acceptable to our aboriginal patients, the health-care system must earn their trust by delivering respect,” they wrote. They pointed to J.J.’s case saying, although some people took issue with the judge’s ruling, “it appears to have been a thoughtful decision addressing a complex area of law.”

“Thoughtful”? Really? If you can bear it, go over and look at that article (free online), “Caring for Aboriginal patients requires trust and respect, not courtrooms.” It’s a sickening paean to the worst aspects of multiculturalism: the assumption that all beliefs are equally worthy of respect. Here’s a quote from Richardson and Stanbrook’s article:

Medical science is not specific to a single culture, but is shared by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people alike. Most Aboriginal people seek care from health professionals — but nearly half also use traditional medicines. Aboriginal healing traditions are deeply valued ancestral practices that emphasize plant-based medicines, culture and ceremony, multiple dimensions of health (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual), and relationships between healer, patient, community and environment. These beliefs create expectations that Aboriginal patients bring to their health care encounters; these must be respected. Doing so is not political correctness — it is patient-centred care.

No, it’s not patient-centered care; it’s culture-centered care, meant to treat a culture rather than the sick. And it’s political correctness of the worst stripe: a form that can be fatal. It is kowtowing to false beliefs for fear of offending an ethnic minority.

It disgusts me that two Canadian physicians can endorse “alternative medicine” because modern medicine causes distrust in some native peoples.  But really, is securing trust among all of them worth the lives of their children? How can Makayla’s parents live with themselves knowing that their daughter had a substantial chance of still being alive had they trusted modern medicine? Are they inhuman? No, they’re human; they were just corrupted by their faith.

And Canada, your government sucks. How many more children must die before you curb your own unwarranted approbation of faith?

h/t: Taskin, Christopher M.


I posted last November about Canadian judge Gethin Edward’s decision to reject a request from a Hamilton hospital to continue “J.J.’s” chemotherapy after her family wanted it discontinued in favor of “traditional medicine”. The judge said this:

“I cannot find that J.J. is a child in need of protection when her substitute decision-maker has chosen to exercise her constitutionally protected right to pursue their traditional medicine over the Applicant’s stated course of treatment of chemotherapy,” Edward said, as he read his ruling aloud.


180 thoughts on “Canadian government kills First Nations girl out of misguided respect for faith

  1. I confess, this is a subject which confounds me. For adults, I firmly believe that the right to refuse medical treatment for any reason–or for no reason–is absolute. I also believe parents should have broad latitude when it comes to their children. I guess I just barely agree with Professor Coyne that in instances like this, the government should step in. But I am troubled by more borderline cases, say, where the chance of survival is lower and the treatment even more traumatic. I guess I simply don’t know. But also, I unreservedly agree that the quack clinic and the Canadian Medical Association Journal are very much in the wrong, whatever the rights of patients and parents.

    1. Don’t forget as well that almost everywhere in the U.S. children can refuse to be vaccinated on religious grounds, but not on any other grounds–save medical ones like a weakened immune system.

      I’m not talking about borderline cases here. Hundreds of children have died from illnesses that one could easily predict would kill them without modern treatment. These include infections and diabetes. Have a look at my book when it comes out.

      1. Aelfric: Most of these cases involve juvenile leukemias and Type I diabetes — about as black-and-white as you get in terms of survival with state-of-art medicine versus certain suffering and death.

        There is NO case for parental preference/delusion/claimed culture trumping a young child’s chance for life.

        It’s further ironic that “aboriginal rights” lead the parents to quacks with a battery of lasers and industrial bleaches. Quite a ways past chewing on willow bark.

        1. As I said, professor, I tend to agree with you. But what about a hypothetical case where the decision can be shown to originate with the child? What if you have a hyper-religious child whose parents accede to the wish to forego treatment? I fully agree that is NOT the situation here. In general, I think the government probably should step in in these situations, but any time the government is overriding a person’s health choices, I get antsy.

          1. Children cannot legally make major life decisions about themselves, they lack the ability to give informed consent.

            It’s also pretty unthinkable for a child to somehow be hyper-religious without the parents being equally religious, since the majority of a child’s religious views will come from the parents.

          2. There have been cases like that in Canada with Jehovah Witness children not wanting blood transfusions. The issue made it to the Supreme Court. Here are the details about a 2009 case

            Here is a relevant excerpt:

            “The more a court is satisfied that a child is capable of making a truly mature and independent decision on his or her own behalf, the greater the weight that must be given to his or her views when a court is exercising its discretion” regarding the best interests of the child, said Justice Rosalie Abella, writing for the majority.

            “If, after a careful analysis of the young person’s ability to exercise mature and independent judgment, the court is persuaded that the necessary level of maturity exists, the young person’s views ought to be respected.”

            The court stressed that this in no way means that a child should be allowed to make a decision that might endanger his or her life.

            So, in other words, the court needs to assess this on an individual basis. In this case, it ruled against the girl’s wishes.

          3. I am new here but I had to comment on this particular comment.

            I grew up a devout Jehovah’s Witness. Words cannot describe how truly religious I was. I would have fought tooth and nail against a blood transfusion for any reason from a very young age. Children of Jehovah’s Witnesses are often taken from their parents by court order for blood transfusions and my childhood was filled with stories of parents smuggling their babies out of hospitals against doctors orders. I had a friend who died in a car accident when I was 15 – she died because she didn’t have a blood transfusion. These people were applauded and the ones who did (even infants) were seen as martyrs. We were taught from a very young age that if we were before a judge we were to say that taking a blood transfusion was akin to being raped and that we would fight it against all power. We carried cards to say no blood transfusion. It was a completely consuming part of our identity.

            I mention this because at 14 or 11 or heck, even 7 I would have fought to the death to not have a blood transfusion. My eternal life depended on it. But, I never had a chance to think otherwise. I was completely indoctrinated at a young age. This is a long response to why you can’t just let a young person make this decision.

            In general parents should have broad latitude when it comes to their child. But, what if I don’t want my child to ride in a car seat because it isn’t traditional and they don’t do it in some other countries? What if Jesus told me that car seats are bad? What should happen? The same standard should apply to medical care including vaccines, blood transfusions, and chemotherapy. A parent’s right to do what they want with their child should never trump the child’s right to life.

          4. Thanks for this comment with its poignant stories. So often people think that the child is capable of making a decision, not thinking about how the child might have been brainwashed. Indeed, their parents might have been, too, so how capable are THEY at making a decision affecting their children’s health?

          5. This may seem a bit cold and amoral, but as atheists trying to ‘cure the world’ of religion, it isn’t impossible to see the benefit of memetic flaws, such as refusing medical treatment, as somewhat beneficial, statistically speaking..

          6. I agree that your comment is cold and amoral and as an atheist I also look forward to a day when religion has faded into obscurity. I do not wish to see innocent children suffer and die because of delusional parents. Indoctrinating young children into any religion should be considered child abuse.

      2. Disney has been in the news for a measles outbreak at one of its parks. I finally heard a news report that put the blame on anti-vaccers (kudos) and “immigrants” (WTF?) – to be fair, the “news” may have been reporting it that way from the start; I don’t watch the news except for the time it takes to brush my teeth before turning off the idiot box at bedtime.

        That anyone would consider this “Disney’s problem” offends even my sense of anti-corporate outrage.

        1. I think a CDC person (or their website) may have prompted the immigrant bit. Since epidemic measles was eliminated in the US, the general dynamics of such outbreaks *tend* to involve recent arrivals from places with higher measles endemicity. And since our levels of immigration are so phenomenally high (like adding a Denver’s-worth of people every year, without adding the infrastructure to support it), and our health infrastructure so piss-poor to conduct proper screening for every disease and its mother, and the existence of loopholes — and more reasons I won’t go into… there’s a tendency for outbreaks to be fueled by immigrants.

          I don’t know the particulars of this outbreak, but we had a nasty outbreak here (Colorado Springs) of drug-resistant TB in the mid-90s concentrated among the employees of the now-defunct MCI Corp. What they were doing was importing cheap labor from SE Asia (mostly Thailand and Vietnam) and fast-tracking them with work visas & skipping any kind of disease monitoring. Wham, bam, boom. Next thing you know, we’re dealing with the problem at public expense, with MCI passing on the savings to the citizens of El Paso County.

          The only people who would know the specifics of any given outbreak are the contact-tracers, of which Southern Cal. currently has plenty of. (They seem quote competent to me, last I checked – mid last year. They seem to be doing everything right, for a change). They won’t go public with how many of the cases have strong ties to, say, Mexico (my guess), mostly to keep from inflaming redneck sentiments.

          1. That makes sense and that’s good news that So Cal is on it (which if anyone in the U.S. is on it, it not a surprise that it would be the LA-OC-San Diego mega metropolis.

            I ruffled at “immigrants” for the reasons you note, and just generally it’s distressing that hike countries didn’t inoculate, that resident aliens aren’t getting their shots (presumably due to visa status or lack thereof), and that we have to tolerate our anti-vax crackpots. People of good will can disagree over who is to blame if an immigrant comes to the U.S. Illegally and gets people sick, but while that erudite discussion is going on, inexpensive solutions are not being undertaken and the health of the rest of us is threatened.

          2. I cannot be sure, but it seems that officials on both sides are playing “pass the hot potato” – the SE Asians pretending that we will conduct the screening, and our officials looking at the “papers” (likely forged/bribed) and letting the vast majority through, hitting the “OK” box on the way. After all, it’s not THEIR problem. The local systems will absorb the shock. Or not.

        1. Also, individuals being swindled or of their life’s savings on scams such as treatment for “Chronic Lyme Disease.” Absolutely infuriating and disheartening.

          1. There are over 100 autoimmune diseases and there is NO CURE for autoimmune disease. You can put it in remission, you can alleviate the symptoms, but there is no cure. Period. Once your immune system is messed up and stops to recognize self from non self, it can turn on you at any time. Chronic Lyme Disease, Diabetes, MS, Lupus, Celiac, Vasculitis and over a 100 more, all without a cure.
            if you want more info on how these bad boys really work.

      3. I so don’t agree with tis mass vaccination practice, and even less so with guilting people for making educated decisions based on their own family history and the lack of accountability by the Pharmaceutical companies. Do you know how many people die each year from iatrogenic disease? The equivalent of a 747 full of passengers crashing and killing everyone on board, EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR. How much fuss is raised around the globe when one plane crashes? A lot. How much fuss is raised for the planeload of people dying each day at the hands of the medical system. We follow blindly under the assumption that they have our best interest in mind, but do they? Or is the best interest of the bank account of the pharmaceutical companies. Having had a negative reaction – and I mean negative – from the H1N1 vaccine, I’m now on permanent disability, taking chemo every day of my life for the rest of my life, and nobody is taking the hit but me and my family. I got the vaccine and it almost killed me. Twice!I’m curious what kind of sheep propaganda is in your book. Time for us to stop following blindly and pull our heads out of the sand when it comes to vaccinations. This new Ebola vaccine that is about to be launched will come with nothing but problems, for anyone involved. Mark my words. I had the same feeling before getting my H1N1 and I almost paid with my life.

        1. I did an intership as an optometric physician at the state school for the blind. I saw a number of children with severe problems because mothers did not get German Measles vaccine (Rubella) and there was an epidemic in the late 60s. After seeing these children suffer I cannot imagine the minimal risk to a vaccination is worth the life these children had to live. I am 66 years old and I can see those children as if it was last week, very sad.

    2. Aelfric wrote:
      ” But I am troubled by more borderline cases, say, where the chance of survival is lower and the treatment even more traumatic. I guess I simply don’t know.”

      You don’t know whether children should be allowed to die for their parents’ religious beliefs? Or whether some chance of survival is better than no chance at all? I don’t see the distinction between “borderline” cases and this case. What is borderline – 10% chance of survival, 50%? And who draws the line. The answers seem obvious to me; a parent’s religious beliefs should never be allowed it influence medical decisions concerning their children.

      1. My interpretation is that Aelfric meant something like “when does the pain and suffering of the best known course of treatment outweigh the probability of survival in cases when that probability is very low, and who should get to make that decision.” Very much the same considerations for adults in similar situations.

        1. darrelle–Yes, thank you, that is in fact what I meant. I don’t know how to gauge a child’s determination to refuse medical treatment, largely because we are still so undecided on how to do so in adults. There MUST be a point at which a rational child could choose death over low-probability treatment; but I still don’t know where that is. Also, I am not sure how we draw the line between parents’ religious beliefs and sincerely held beliefs of the child. Sometimes it’s obvious there’s a distinction, other times less so. It’s a thorny problem to say the least.

          1. After all, we (I think probably most of us) are supportive of an adult’s right to choose voluntary euthanasia over continuing to suffer for no good reason. I suppose, logically, the same considerations should apply to children – if, as is often said, we wouldn’t let a dog suffer needlessly, why would we let a child. This is, obviously, the opposite extreme from the Canadian girl’s case.
            Somewhere in the middle ground there must be a line to draw, but it’s a bit of a minefield.

      2. The answers seem obvious to me; a parent’s religious beliefs should never be allowed it influence medical decisions concerning their children.

        How would that even be possible? And legally feasible? So, you create a bunch of parents that now refuse to discuss their reasons for taking their kids off treatment instead of doing so and giving us insight into why they make these decisions. Its better to know.

        I’m okay with the courts judging hard cases on a case-by-case basis. In those cases, rather than try and draw some general rule that will fit all cases you look at the maturity of the actual patient (i.e., are they capable of giving legal consent), how well informed they are, the specific risk of death with and without treatment, and so on. But I agree with many other posters that this is not a borderline case. And I find lancelotgobbo’s comment very insightful: had this been a white child, the courts would’ve forced treatment. Not doing so for a brown child is racism, devaluing her life. The judge might have a noble liberal motivation for it, but he’s still being racist.

        1. eric wrote:
          “So, you create a bunch of parents that now refuse to discuss their reasons for taking their kids off treatment instead of doing so and giving us insight into why they make these decisions. Its better to know.”

          It doesn’t work that way. Federal law requires states to include providing medical care in child abuse statutes, (Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act), in order to receive federal grants, which they all do, with the only possible exemption being a sincerely held religious belief. So a parent can’t just decide not to provide medical care, without facing child abuse charges, unless they claim a religious exemption. The religious exemption is what needs to be changed. Without that, most of the children who die every year for their parents’ religious beliefs, would live.

          1. Yes, and that was precisely the point Jerry was making. There *might* be some theoretical reasons a parent would be allowed not to give consent to treatment in some cases (although in case of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia I cannot imagine one, it would be -is- tantamount to murder), but religious convictions of the parents or ethnic sensibilities cannot, should not and may not be one of those reasons, never ever, methinks. Religious exemption in these cases is definitely a form of child abuse, not to say infanticide (i.e. murder). and a state that allows it is complicit.
            I’m 100% with Jerry here.

          2. If you’re going to allow theoretical ideological reasons to reject treatment, I don’t see how you can get around allowing religious reasons given that religion sits under the umbrella of ideology. Short of just flat carving out an exception and saying religious ideologies do not grant the rights that other ideologies grant. Good luck with that. Such a suggestion runs counter to the first amendment, which calls out religious types of ideologies (including atheism, according to the modern court) for special protections.

          3. I think you got me wrong there, I meant that there might be *in theory* some reasons, some theoretical situations, not theoretical ideological reasons. Sorry for not expressing myself clearly.
            Example: child diagnosed with retinoblastoma. One eye already enucleated, other eye appears to have it too, chances of saving life are about 10% if the other eye is also enucleated. If not, about 1%. That is what I meant by theoretical reasons. How sure we are the white mass in the other eye is retinoblastoma? 99% at least.
            I think the parents (note these are not 11 years old, more like 2 years old children) may arguably be justified in preferring a 1% chance of survival with one eye to 10% survival without eyes at all.
            Note, I would personally choose to enucleate the other eye too, but it is difficult to condemn the parents who think otherwise. The choice is horrendous in any case.
            That is an example of what I meant by ‘theoretical’.

    3. I very much agree with Aelfric’s comments on this issue. There may be some cases where the state clearly should intervene to overrule the parents, but there are far more cases where it’s a grey area. Religion may or may not be central to the difference of opinion between parents and medical staff. I can also imagine a parent being unable to cope with the separation and the side effects of some treatments, or their intrusiveness. And if their position isn’t rational, there is a good reason for that. It is upsetting to see your child in this condition. I can see why people would come down on the side of forcing parents to accept certain treatments for their child, but it is a difficult issue and to be overly critical of the parents or regard the issue as a no-brainer strikes me as rather simplistic, not to mention lacking in empathy.
      BTW I think vaccination is a slightly different issue as their is a group benefit.

      1. I largely agree with this. Additionally, the kind of society that I would prefer to live in is one that protects and helps me when I am a danger to myself, or my children, because I am emotionally compromised.

        Of course all of the most important issues arise in how that ideal is implemented. If the state were always right about all the factors involved, is the parent compromised, is the parent jeapordizing the child, is the medical professional’s suggestion valid, etc., there wouldn’t be much to argue about.

        I don’t want to speak for anybody else, but I am pretty sure that the majority of people would rather a child doesn’t die when it could straightforwardly, with high probability, have been prevented if the parents had only allowed medical professionals to exercise their best judgement.

        I am also pretty sure that most people don’t want government interfering, curtailing their rights, when it is not warranted. Or doing so when the best outcome for the child is not the primary consideration. The devil is in the details.

    4. Children are not property of their parents. They are their own individual people, but without fully developed brains and the rational thinking and maturity that goes along with that. That is why parents have a duty to properly raise children until the children reach a sufficient level of maturity to face the world on their own. Parents should have latitude only in so much as they are acting in the best interests of the children. Once a parent’s actions jeopardize or cause harm to the child, they’ve gone well beyond any plausible latitude.

      Governments have the responsibility of protecting citizens, whether the citizen is being threatened by a stranger in a dark alley or by their own parents abusing them. Cases like this of withholding appropriate medical care are among the worst cases of abuse, since they result in the death of the child.

      Children do not have sufficient maturity, experience, or knowledge to make well thought out decisions on life and death issues. Their wishes should be considered, and given increasing weight as the child matures and approaches adulthood, but those wishes should not trump the judgment of mature, well informed adults (usually the parents, but the state if the parents are incompetent).

      Of course, there will always be grey areas. When does spanking become physical abuse? When does lecturing become verbal abuse? When does opting out of pills become criminal neglect? That’s why we have judges and the court system. If interpreting the law were easy, we’d just have clerks administering penalties rather than having judges.

    5. “I also believe parents should have broad latitude when it comes to their children.”

      You’re voicing a legal opinion here that is not accurate. In Canada, parents have a legal responsibility to do what is in the best interest of their (minor) children in every Provincial jurisdiction that I am aware of. This is different from parents doing what they would want for themselves. There is a big legal and moral difference here. You are correct that there may be a grey zone, but this case wasn’t in it: the girl was suffering from a very treatable cancer and had treamemnt withdrawn. The Court got this one wrong big time when IT exercised ‘broad latitude’, and did not act in the best interest of the child.

  2. It annoys me that Children’s Services refused to take action for the now dead girl and that the hospital needed to go to court for the second girl. From what I understand, First Nations (the reserv the two girls are from) have kicked Children’s Services out. Also, there were lots of protests by Natives “asserting their rights”, which is funny because most of the BS healing was by the quack on Florida who travel to Native communities regularly to target these people.

    Why is no one being held criminally responsible for this girl’s death? It was a horrible miscarriage of justice!

    1. Did you ever try decrying multiculturalism in Canada? In this case you are asserting 1) that modern medicine aka ‘white medicine’ is *better* than ‘native healing’ and 2) that some white people know *better* than the native parents.

      1. I don’t understand what you mean.

        1) Seems obviously true for just about any medical condition in general, and is certainly true for this specific case.

        2) Seems trivially true, but a pretty narrow statement. It is extremely likely that there are also native people that know better than the native parents. And people of other ethnic groups than white or native that also know better than the native parents did in this case.

        Do you mean to say that your 1 and 2 are the kinds of responses one can expect from certain quarters to the criticims that Diana made?

        1. Yes to your last paragraph, and loudly. I have heard such responses in the past, in admittedly less extreme cases.
          Why have no charges been laid yet? They would have been with white Baptist parents citing Ron Paul.

      2. How can one seriously argue against #1? Are there people in Canada who are actually claiming that all forms of medicine are equally effective? That as much public funding should go to, say, crystal therapy as stem-cell research?

        I would love to see one of these people put their money where their mouth is when they fall ill. I highly doubt at that point that they would see all forms of treatment for cancer as equally likely to succeed. Are they arguing instead that non-white people have different physiologies that would somehow make their “native” treatments more effective? No matter how you slice this relative medicine argument, it comes out dumb.

        If I was super cynical, I would almost think that this taboo against criticizing “native” or “traditional” medicines was just a way for white people to keep all the effective medicine for themselves.

      3. I think you were just being sarcastic? Not really clear though. Just in case not:
        Of course, there is such a thing as ‘evidence based medicine’.
        The prevalence of homeopaths, chiropractors, dr. Ozzes, sangomas (the latter prevalent here in RSA) and other snake oil pedlars, appears to demonstrate that many cannot distinguish between ‘evidence based’ and ‘idea based’.
        Should we hold ethnic minorities (or religious fundamentalists) to a lesser standard?

      4. I don’t think going against woo is decrying multiculturalism. For one, First Nations people don’t even buy into “multiculturalism” and I couldn’t care less what they thought about me or how many racists slurs they threw at me because a child’s life is on the line.

  3. These troubling cases highlight not only the gullibility and susceptibility of desperate parents, but also the pernicious role relativistic liberalism plays in these decisions. No one close to these cases seems willing to point out that Jesus is not curing children, yet proper medicine might. Nor does anyone point out the hypocrisy of rejecting medical treatment in favour of an aboriginal regime while traveling (by plane, I assume) from Canada to Florida for alternative ‘health care’ at the Hippocrates Institute (where, according to its website, the goal is to help people “internalize and actualize an existence free from premature aging, disease and needless pain.”)

    The hypocrisy is that modern transportation, communications, and technology seem acceptable while modern medicine is replaced with dubious, ancient, and unproven medical traditions or, in other examples, with prayers and holy water. It is not just the native community that falls into this trap. There is an almost ubiquitous mindset that embraces modernism nearly everywhere except in the roles of morality and medicine.

    In the particular case of Makayla, I had seen the girl interviewed several times by the CBC – she was a bright and innocent child. Her death is a tragedy.

      1. The letter that Mikayla is said to have written was, I suspect,written by her mother . The phrase,”I can’t take it anymore”,is not a phrase that an 11 year old would use.

        1. I dunno, I would’ve said something like that if I were 11 and enduring a lot of pain. I think everything this girl said, however, was really a reflection of what her parents wanted her to say – at 11 you don’t really have a mind of your own yet.

      2. I think the reality is probably closer to something like she was so tired of the suffering she came up with that story in hopes of ending it. And I’m sure her parents were very receptive to it, instead of supporting her and working with her to understand that the suffering was an unavoidable consequence of the necessary treatment, that it would end, that it would result in her becoming better and, most importantly, without which she would all but certainly die.

        Unfortunately the parents are nearly as ignorant as poor Makayla was. She had excellent reason for her ignorance. She was their child.

        1. It does appear like a child’s attempt to please her parents. When people are sick, especially children, the pain of their parents weighs on them and they feel bad for it.

          1. yes that’s very true, she probably saw how pained her parents were and thought she would make them feel better by coming up with this dream

          2. In that respect, the dream coulda been genuine. If her thoughts were running along those lines (even without any deliberate intent) before she went to sleep…

  4. Son of a b*tch.
    Since this was a case of ALL, my immediate thought is I wish that all concerned with her case had seen this graph.
    Science works, murderers.

  5. “one common feature of parents whose children die after they receive faith healing or alternative medicine is this: a curious lack of parental affect and regret.”

    It’s not really curious at all. It’s entirely expected. “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me),” by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson is a book length explanation of why that is. It’s very good. Basically, the cognitive dissonance of believing you are a good, loving parent and also that your bad decisions directly caused the suffering and death of your child is just too much to bear. They can’t handle it, so they double down on the bad decision. Don’t be surprised if they (the parents) become vocal proponents of alternative treatments and start spending a lot of time and energy trying to convince others to follow the same path.

  6. In my view the hardest part is deciding the age(s) by which someone can elect medical treatment (including none) on their own. In Quebec, for example, it is 14, last I checked, and that includes abortions.

  7. Diana McP has talked about this in the past on the Canadian Atheist website. Apart from the disgusting decision to allow these children to be taken away from care that will save their lives, there’s a major flaw in the logic. The treatment in Florida is NOT traditional First Nations care, so even if the decision to remove the children from chemo etc for traditional care was a valid one, going to quacks in Florida didn’t fit the bill.

    These parents have killed their children, and the government has failed to protect these children from their parents, making them culpable.

    My understanding, which may be incorrect, is that the religion of the pastor parents was not a First Nations one, so it provides no cover either, if that was even possible.

    All so sad and so avoidable.

    1. Agreed. This case is being seen here as a question of aboriginal rights – which for too long were trampled and ignored in Canada. However, the family in question have a non-aboriginal faith and used non-aboriginal “alternative medicine” at a centre in Florida.

        1. On the ‘bright’ side, good ‘ol Dr. Burzynski, a quack doctor claiming to cure cancer while bilking desperate patients, is finally, slowly, being asked to stop…

  8. If the parents are considered, in these cases, to have a right to own their children’s fate, why should the government even try to prevent child abuse by parents. By this law, parents can starve their children to death if they say its part of some cultural superstition. Not much difference really.

  9. So a child has died because the Canadians wanted to coddle the traditional values of native peoples, which don’t actually work but, you know, the Little People might get upset if you point this out and call you an imperialist.

    Well, fuck you too, Canada.

    If I had been born into that culture, you’re telling me that my life can be thrown aside after barely a decade just to make some other people feel high self-esteem and trust you? Are you even listening to yourselves?

    The stupid, moralistic, negligent assholes should be charged with manslaughter. It’s completely stupid logic at best: You know what would improve trust between you and this poor child’s parents? ACTUALLY CURING HER WITH CHEMOTHERAPY! Giving them your best medicine! Sharing something everyone is entitled to: Good healthcare and a chance at life! You know, that thing that means people DON’T HAVE TO DIE? Wake up out of your feel-good cultural relativistic fantasy and notice you just KILLED someone!

    I want to kick something right now. Badly. I’ve never felt so angry.

    1. Don’t believe for a moment that ‘Canadians’ en masse were behind this business. There is widespread horror that this should have happened. My further thoughts can be found below.

      1. Yes, I apologize for lumping people into a group. That was wildly inaccurate and blamed many who were not involved. Hopefully, context will help discern what I had intended to say, but I regret generalizing too quickly nonetheless, even with the “excuse” of being angry at the time.

        Very unfair and foolish of me. I am sorry.

    2. The treatment used (as well of the beliefs of the parents and child) weren’t even traditional native beliefs.

  10. I think a more accurate headline would have been, ‘Canadian government allows First Nations to sacrifice children to honour tradition’. At least it would have spread the blame to all who earned it.

    1. No, not even to “honour tradition”, but to honour ‘cold laser’ modern snake oil pedlars. Pray, what is traditional in ‘cold lasers?.

  11. Two thoughts:
    1- This feels like a form of passive euthanasia on the part of government. The statistics were clear that this course of ‘treatment’ would result in death.
    2- We should be able to work up an analog of the trolley problem for this sort of situation…

  12. Treatment with ‘cold lasers’ at a fraudulent Florida massage clinic hardly constitutes traditional aboriginal treatment. The only tradition being respected there is that of shady American practitioners to fleece the gullible. What concerns me most is that we have a legal precedent here that will make it more likely that Canadian aboriginal children in this situation will, in effect, be treated as second class citizens. If she had not been aboriginal when she went into that courtroom she would not have been condemned to this death by a judge who possibly cared more for upsetting a legal applecart than for the well-being of the child. I understand chemo isn’t pleasant (believe me, I am a physician who is currently receiving chemo for leukemia – it’s not fun but it beats the alternative), but to let a child die unnecessarily is unforgivable. To do it simply because she is First Nations is racist. To do both is not something that should happen in my Canada.
    This is a disgrace that reflects badly on us. Let down by parents who were unable to act in her best interests and let down by a legal system that respected the fact she was aboriginal more than her right to live. Any other aboriginal children in the same predicament must know now that the court system will not save them from an untimely death, while it would do so if they were of any other race. Justice Ontario – doing their bit for genocide.

    1. You should submit your post above to an op-ed in the local paper. Its good; succinct and highlights a racist inequity most people are unlikely to think about.

    2. “…let down by a legal system that respected the fact she was aboriginal more than her right to live”.
      I do not like the expression, but you are so very much spot on.
      ‘Disgrace’ is really a mild way to put it.

  13. I would say this specific subject would sit at the head of the table in any discussion of incompatibility between religion and science.

    After all, death and murder should be attention getting in any argument. Not just the religion itself but the intimidation that comes from it is just disgusting.

  14. This is just … disquieting, dispiriting, disgusting. How does someone watch their beautiful child die for religion and quackery?

    1. They convince themselves that they aren’t killing the child and it was that pesky science-based medicine that is doing it. At least, that is what this couple did.

      1. So far have read only a few responses to this post. Maybe someone has mentioned it, but, to appropriate a Hitch response:

        “This makes me want to throw up things I’d forgotten I’d eate.”

        1. “Eaten,” not bloody “eate.” Whenever possible I hook up my old desktop keyboard and avoid the laptop keyboard.

  15. Most Aboriginal people seek care from health professionals — but nearly half also use traditional medicines…

    …These beliefs create expectations that Aboriginal patients bring to their health care encounters; these must be respected. Doing so is not political correctness — it is patient-centred care.

    Note how the authors subtly move the goalposts/attack a straw man. Nobody is arguing against first nations people also using traditional medicine (though in some cases maybe there are food/drug combinations that need to be avoided). The argument is whether they shoudl be allowed to use traditional medicine instead of western medicine, in cases where western medicine has a strong track record of working and the risk of death is high without it. But it doesn’t look like R&S want to tackle that much more difficult question, does it?

    1. Good point.
      However, here is RSA we often, well not often but regularly, see people with e.g. renal failure due to traditional medicine. These herbs and roots they peddle are not always innocuous.
      However, this is but a minor point, the major point is that these ‘doctors’ and sangomas pretend to be able to cure eg. TB or AIDS, which they don’t and hence indirectly spread these disease.(I’d rather see them to stick to impotence, where they have to compete with Viagra and Cialis).

    2. Well spotted. See my comment further down/later about the real situation of native people and healthcare in Canada. That these horrible doctors are effectively lying about.

  16. It seems to me to boil down to the question, “Does an 11-year-old have the right to make a decision that is, basically, “attempted suicide” (in this case, unfortunately successful), and/or do her parents have the right to make that decision for her? I have no problem with an adult making that decision, as bad of one as it may be. Were I to be diagnosed with cancer I would, of course, examine my chances with treatment. I don’t think I would have any hesitation as to jumping for a treatment that has a 75% cure rate; were it a situation where my chances were only 20%, etc., I’m not sure how I would go.

    I believe that in this case, upon a rational examination of her chances at recovery with the treatment, that the laws of society should have “trumped” the parents’ wishes, but hey, rational thinking goes out the window when religion gets involved. Of course the child’s didn’t “enjoy” chemo, and the “prompting” by her parents that undoubtedly occurred in favor of “traditional” treatments (as if this includes cold lasers and syringes for injections) allowed her childish thinking to see this as a way to avoid pain and discomfort. I’m sure this little girl didn’t want to die! I thought the statement that both parents were “pastors” to be telling, as well- I’ve seen this scenario many times in these cases- they probably felt they had to “set an example” for their flock in supporting their spiritual beliefs.

  17. Aboriginal healing traditions are deeply valued ancestral practices that emphasize plant-based medicines, culture and ceremony, multiple dimensions of health (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual), and relationships between healer, patient, community and environment. These beliefs create expectations that Aboriginal patients bring to their health care encounters; these must be respected. Doing so is not political correctness — it is patient-centred care.

    Look at this mess of deepities, where remedies which don’t actually work are mixed in with things like culture, ceremony, and cuddling. It’s all the same sort of thing! Relationships! Emotional dimension of health! Wheatgrass enemas to cure cancer! If you try to criticize any one of them then that means you’re the kind of meanie who will use any means to remove meaning from life. You don’t believe in “multiple dimensions.”

    This easy conflation of fact and value is the hallmark of religion. No wonder alternative medicine tends to be treated with the same sort of respectful deference generally granted to faith itself. No right, no wrong, just different: choose your belief.

    1. If I had a heartlessscienceometer that could extract all the “relationship between healer, patient, community and environment” out of the situation and convert it into a cure for cancer for a little girl, I would use it. Who wouldn’t?

    1. Yeah, I love how Sam Harris rips Xianity a new one:

      Xians credit their god with, you know, getting them that new job, that raise, helping them get clean, finding their spouse, etc. That’s god being his wonderful, good, kind, loving self (like, duh!)

      But when a tsunami kills tens of thousands of children, horribly, well, that’s just god “being mysterious”.

      The only wonder is that people believe this sort of nonsense. Wish thinking writ large.

      1. It’s not mysterious at all. God permits natural law to operate as it will when it comes to things like earthquakes and tsunamis. But it when it comes to chains of natural causation that lead to Phil getting that promotion instead of you, God will step in and alter that chain of causation favorably to you.

        So, God permits things except when he doesn’t. He likes you more than Phil. He seems ok with natural disasters that massacre people and animals on a large scale.

        Therefore, His method for helping you get that promotion would probably be to induce Phil to take a vacation in Japan right when the next tsunami will hit.

        1. I have enjoyed making the analogy to the excuses made by someone in an abusive relationship that steadfastly defends their abuser. They need the idea of their relationship, and put up with huge truckloads of bullshit rather than face the truth.

    2. What do they expect from a carpenter? He wasn’t schooled in doctorin’ (sort of stolen from Aiden).

  18. Some clarifications for the benefit of non-Canadians.
    1. The CMA is the only national organisation representing all physicians. ‘Premier’ is Jerry’s adjective, but beyond being national and not being limited to, say, psychiatrists or surgeons, that is its only claim to fame.. It is not a government body and doesn’t speak for the government at any level. Membership is voluntary, and whilst Wikipedia claims the CMA has 83,000 members, bear in mind that there are only 75,000 physicians in Canada. Perhaps a lot of retirees? I am not a member and see no reason why I should pay them annual dues to have them pontificate, supposedly on my behalf. Think of it as being like the AMA, and I believe around 15% of US physicians are members of that national body.

    2. Much as I have searched, I cannot confirm that Makayla’s case went before a judge. I have found headlines declaring her mother wanted her real name used, and some declaring that her treating oncologists respected the precedent set in the case of J.J. Everything I wrote above still applies, but to J.J. rather than Makayla if this is the case. It also, ominously, still applies to all future First Nations kids whose parents choose to take them out of treatment.

    3. Jerry’s last line (“And Canada, your government sucks. How many more children must die before you curb your own unwarranted approbation of faith?”) misses an important subtlety in this situation. It isn’t truly about faith or religion, but about native rights. Canada has dealt rather differently with the indigenous population that European settlers met here than, say, America did. For better or worse, we have tried to keep our treaty obligations, though these are now out of date and inappropriate. It would take far more space than can be used here to begin to describe the complications that has brought, and I’m not the best person to do it anyway.

  19. I hope these parents don’t ‘wake up’ in a few years and realize what they have done.

    But on the other hand, I’ve read patients saying that chemo is a lot worse than the symptoms of the cancer. I can’t imagine being in a situation where you have to make your own child sick to the bones to get well, and even if you put your child through years of torture, it’s still not guaranteed to work and they may die anyway.

    I’m not sure this is so black and white as we outsiders think it is.

    1. Bullshit.

      These parents killed their child because they thought Jesus had cured her. There’s no complexity here.

      1. There was a critically ill child and a disagreement over what constituted appropriate medical treatment. Of course there was complexity. Of course there was! This is not an appropriate topic for an intellectual feeding frenzy. It is a tragic case in which, on balance, the best course of action was almost certainly not followed, for a variety of reasons.

        1. I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or serious. A child had a life-threatening disease, and there’s a treatment with around 90% effectiveness that could have saved her life. The parents refused to make her continue the treatment, dooming her to death. This case, at least, is not a particularly grey area.

          Look at all the outrage over Adrian Peterson’s child abuse. At least his child survived, making this case far worse.

          1. Actually, thinking about the Peterson case:

            There was a critically ill misbehaving child and a disagreement over what constituted appropriate medical treatment discipline. Of course there was complexity. Of course there was! This is not an appropriate topic for an intellectual feeding frenzy. It is a tragic case in which, on balance, the best course of action was almost certainly not followed, for a variety of reasons.

          2. Did Peterson claim that his religion mandated this treatment? If he had, I wonder if he would have been insulated from a lot of the backlash he received.

        2. Paul Davies wrote:
          “a disagreement over what constituted appropriate medical treatment.”

          Well that’s certainly an interesting way to put it. Conventional care versus quackery is simply a disagreement over what’s appropriate, sometimes it might be one, sometimes the other. So I guess you would classify the treatments of this church, whose members refuse conventional medical care in favor of prayer, laying on of hands, and anointing with oils, and whose cemetary is full of dead children, (infant mortality in the community is 26 times the norm), to be simply a disagreement over what’s appropriate medical care.


          1. Apparently, appropriate medical care, like morality, is not an objective thing. It is determined only in context of a given culture. High rates of infant mortality are only symptomatic of inappropriate medical care in YOUR particular socio-cultural context. There are no facts of the matter that can we can point to that would contradict this.

        3. In contrast to a general comment you made upstream, I disagree with you here regarding this specific case. GBJames is right. The complications in this case were bullshit. The best course of action was clear, and was not taken.

        4. Here’s another story on the subject, corroborating the reason this kid died. Money quote:

          “The decision was prompted in part by Makayla’s claim that she had seen a vision of Jesus Christ at her bedside declaring her to be cancer-free.”

          What part of this leave the least bit of uncertainty? This kid wasn’t treated because her parents were religious nuts. And a judge allowed it. The three of them (parents and judge) belong in prison, IMO.

      2. Then why try chemo at all? They had her on chemo for 11 weeks. That’s almost 3 months.

        Maybe they got sick of whatching their child puking, being in pain, loosing hair, and weight, and crying herself to sleep. Maybe they couldn’t handle it and needed alternatives?

        Meh, I have no idea what went through their heads or how this affected them. So I won’t defend them or judge them. But I can think of scenarios where it’s can be unimaginably difficult to go through or cope with.

        1. You’re right, boku. It is crass to condemn the parents’ reasons as stupid without knowing what they went through.
          Many medical treatments – including chemo – have unpleasant effects but are still an advisable course of treatment on a balance of probabilities. The problem for parents is how to remain level-headed about the probabilities when every parental instinct is screaming at them to remove their child from immediate discomfort. Instincts are far more compelling than probabilities. This is why these cases are difficult and why parents sometimes come to decisions which most disinterested people (including me) would regard as misguided. Just because the evidence may be clear (for example, in favour of a particular treatment) does not mean the situation isn’t complex or even ambiguous.

          1. To understand is not to forgive, not even in the slightest. I might understand why arachnophobes find spiders creepy, and wish they didn’t suffer so, but that doesn’t make their phobia any less brainless.

            I dare say it was distressing, unpleasant, and therefore comprehensible why they made said decision, but there’s nothing crass about condemning the parents’ reasons regardless. The decision of the people involved – regardless of any instincts that would have caused it – WAS stupid. Crashingly, monstrously, and irresponsibly stupid. Their instincts are wrong, and the result is a preventable death and blaming the cure for their own incompetence.

            At the very least, your language isn’t making it clear. You’re coming across as trying to excuse this manslaughter.

          2. “To understand is not to forgive, not even in the slightest.”
            I’m not sure what you mean by ‘forgive’ – who or what are you not forgiving? It doesn’t seem an appropriate word to use about a situation which doesn’t involve you personally.
            On the other hand, I think attempting to understand is very important. Assuming we want parents to make good, rational decisions about their children’s healthcare, it helps to understand why they sometimes don’t. I’d like to know how to persuade parents to be more trusting of medical opinion and less susceptible to quackery. I don’t know what the best tactic is, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t raucous condemnation.
            It’s also worth remembering that whenever you give the State authority to not only decide but also enforce what is best for its citizens (or its citizens’ children), you have to be pretty confident that they’ll get it right. What would that confidence be based on? The historical evidence is not persuasive.

          3. Given that quackery is all too frequently being treated with the tender kid gloves of respect and forbearance, raucous condemnation may not be the best tactic … but it might be in the arsenal.

            People frequently imbibe their views not from a careful assessment of the facts, but from their culture. If the skeptical position is a bit too understanding and tempered, it can lose its bite. The Overton Window will shift so that the “moderate” position turns into something like “Integrative Medicine” (which is simply combining actual medicine with quackery and minimizing any distinction.)

          4. “…whenever you give the State authority to not only decide but also enforce what is best for its citizens (or its citizens’ children)…”

            Children are citizens themselves, not property of the parents. Since it’s the states responsibility to protect citizens, that includes when it’s parents harming a child.

          5. “I’m not sure what you mean by ‘forgive’ – who or what are you not forgiving? It doesn’t seem an appropriate word to use about a situation which doesn’t involve you personally.”

            It’s a saying, the point being that you can know the causes and conditions that produce a pointless tragedy or a bad decision, but nothing changes the fact that it was a pointless tragedy or a bad decision. It’s too common a fallacy to think that, because a bad thing can be explained and understood, it somehow becomes less bad. That kind of thinking makes the problem worse.

            And I have no truck with the “mind your own business” implication in that crack about forgiveness you made. If other people are suffering and dying, that is everybody’s business, including mine. That’s what morality is.

            I also would like to know the causes of such cases, especially in the interests of preventing further ones, so don’t give me that high-and-mighty understanding stance as if you alone cared about it among “raucous condemnation”. But that involves recognizing what actually happened and why it was wrong, and condemnation is the correct response when it is clear that this was wrong. I have yet to see any indication from you that you actually give a damn about the child’s welfare, as practically all your posts so far have focused on defending the parents and others involved.

            “What would that confidence be based on?”

            Dead children, apparently.

            I never mentioned the slightest thing about state intervention. This is, first and foremost, a medical issue of what actually works and to what degree of confidence. There are practical considerations over which strategies would best get the best medical care into the hands of people who need it, but mixing that with irrelevant politics such as the “respect” ones mentioned in the OP is, as this case demonstrates, fatuous and dangerous.

            I’m not asking you to drop any insight into what the parents were thinking or feeling when this happened. That’s valuable to know. But I am asking you to give at least some indication that you’re not trying to pretend the case was more ambiguous, uncertain, and morally vague than it actually is, especially with a suspiciously excessive focus on trying to make the parents look innocent. You do realize, behind all this psychological intellectualizing, that there’s a dead child, right?

          6. “The problem for parents is how to remain level-headed about the probabilities when every parental instinct is screaming at them to remove their child from immediate discomfort.”

            I hear you. My daughter screams with discomfort whenever we take her to the doctor to get her immunization shots. In return, our parental instincts scream at us to stop her pain. Therefore, despite our knowledge that her short-term pain is more than offset by long term health benefits, such as a hugely reduced chance of dying of measles or whooping cough, we have decided to cease all vaccination treatments.

            We are great parents who have made what we think in our hearts is the best decision, and no one can say otherwise. If you disagree with this, you are clearly being insensitive and are not appreciative of our situation. It is very complex, you see, so much so that our decisions are literally above criticism from disinterested parties who cannot put themselves 100% in our shoes.

          7. I do like the sarcasm, but your reasoning is dodgy. The fact that a particular parental attitude is risible when it comes to vaccination does not necessarily ‘scale up’ to a situation in which the child is critically ill and the treatment has seriously traumatic side effects.

          8. “The fact that a particular parental attitude is risible when it comes to vaccination does not necessarily ‘scale up’ to a situation in which the child is critically ill and the treatment has seriously traumatic side effects.”

            Nonsense. The decision not to vaccinate can be just as deadly as the decision to pursue “alternative” treatments for critically ill children.

            Also, your argument seems to be putting a lot of weight on the side effects from chemo, almost to the point that it cancels out the fact that these side effects are 1) temporary 2) necessary to cure the disease. Furthermore, the severity of the trauma is very subjective. A painful series of vaccination shots may cause extreme anxiety on the part of a child. I have yet to see anyone use this as an argument, however, for not vaccinating their child.

          9. The decision not to vaccinate can be just as deadly as the decision to pursue “alternative” treatments for critically ill children.

            But the risk of nonvaccination is much lower than the risk associated with someone in Mykayla’s situation refusing chemo. We must consider that, else we must outlaw anything with a potential lethal consequence no matter how improbable it is. No driving your kid around! And no flying, going by boat, or bicycle for your kid either! You must walk them everywhere. And no living in Denver, the background radiation slightly increases his/her chance of contracting cancer!

            Many decisions can be potentially deadly. We don’t take them out of parental control just because of that. We take the high-probability deadly ones out of parental control and criminalize them as ‘reckless.’

            I am not necessarily arguing in favor of nonvaccination. I’d be okay with mandatory vaccination. But your logic is not a good justification for it.

          10. “Nonsense. The decision not to vaccinate can be just as deadly as the decision to pursue “alternative” treatments for critically ill children.”

            Yes, I do know about the benefits of vaccination. But my point was (obviously) that from a human perspective the situations are very different because generally speaking children are healthy when they’re vaccinated and very ill when they’re given chemo. Which is why your original analogy, though drole, was meaningless.

            However, my super-human powers of empathy tell me that I’m starting to annoy people on this site and, not being a troll by nature, I will call it a day.

          11. I am not necessarily arguing in favor of nonvaccination.

            Neither am I. My sarcastic use of vaccination as an example was to show that using temporary trauma as a justification for ceasing life-saving medical treatment is ridiculous. If we could clearly see the folly in any parent who ceased vaccinations because of temporary discomfort to the child, how much more so should we see the idiocy of a decision to cease a life-saving treatment in the face of temporary discomfort. It is really not that “complex”.

            In fact, it seems that any parent doing this is more concerned about their own reaction to the situation than the health of their child.

          12. You should have said that she has a debilitating fear of needles that causes her a lot of acute anxiety that can last for hours, and that she has to be vaccinated every other day for maximum effect. Then your decision miraculously switches from irresponsible parenting to acceptable euthanasia. Apparently.

            I find it bizarre why there are users who think it’s OK to kill kids when faced with the prospect of letting the kid have a chance at decades of life, painful though it may be. I’m not anti-euthanasia, but I’m certainly not this gung-ho about it, either.

          13. “But my point was (obviously) that from a human perspective the situations are very different because generally speaking children are healthy when they’re vaccinated and very ill when they’re given chemo.”

            Then it is even more incumbent on the parents to make the correct decision to continue the treatment despite the child’s discomfort and the parent’s emotional anguish. Since more is at stake (the child is critically ill), the decision to stop treatment is much more unambiguously bad.

            Yet you seem to regard a decision not to vaccinate given the exact same considerations (the physical suffering of the child and parents’ emotional trauma) as laughable. If anything, under your logic, it is more defensible, as some parents could argue that the extreme trauma felt by their child is not offset by the somewhat remote risk of dying of measles.

          14. blitz: My sarcastic use of vaccination as an example was to show that using temporary trauma as a justification for ceasing life-saving medical treatment is ridiculous.

            Then your example is terrible, because your analogy depends on the two discomforts being relatively similar or comparable, and they’re not.
            If vaccination side effects were comparable to the side effects of aggressive chemotherapy, pretty much nobody would vaccinate for diseases such as flu and I doubt we’d even do it for things like measles and mumps. The rate of infection in the population would probably have to ratchet up to 10, 20, heck probably 30% before people are going to put themselves through months of pain, weakness, and vulnerability to other diseases just to prevent the measles.
            So yes, rational people do consider the level of temporary discomfort vs. risk of death. They do not, as you imply, ignore the level of discomfort. Now in extreme cases like Mykayla’s where risk of death is near 100%, no it doesn’t make sense to forego chemo. But in cases where the risk is 60, 50, 40%, then rational people can take that risk to avoid significant pain and suffering. And your analogy failed to show that because, well, it stunk.

          15. Then your example is terrible, because your analogy depends on the two discomforts being relatively similar or comparable, and they’re not.

            I think that the analogy depends on the ratio of discomfort to benefit. In Makala’s

          16. “Then your example is terrible…”

            “….well, it stunk”

            I don’t think so. Apparently we agree that the temporary suffering, which may range from mild to profound, on the part of the vaccinated child and the witnessing parent is not a good reason to forgo vaccination. If the pain is clearly temporary and not likely to leave permanent damage, then even severe momentary anguish would still be worth the benefits of vaccination.

            “I’m not getting my child vaccinated because the shots hurt so much” is not a position that many of us would sympathize with.

            So in Mykayla’s case, we have a scenario where the suffering is more prolonged, but the benefits of the suffering (removal of a life-threatening disease) are also ratcheted up as well, more than compensating for the costs.

            “I’m stopping the highly effective treatment that will save my child’s life, because it causes my child discomfort” is an even less sympathetic position.

            Just how bad would the side effects of chemo have to be to justify ceasing the treatment and effectively killing the child? Can you point to other examples where parents decide to terminate treatment for their children that is a) highly effective and b) needed to cure a life threatening disease SIMPLY because the treatment causes temporary suffering?

            You introduce an absurd scenario where vaccination regimes would be as difficult as chemo. Of course I am not saying that we should not take into account the cost/benefits of any treatment. The vaccination example is useful to show that we should rightly condemn parents who completely screw up the cost/benefit analysis of treatments.

            Which gets to the real issue, and I think the reason that you and Paul have gotten so much blowback for trying to paint the parents as sympathetic figures and making the situation more complex that it is.

            The side effects of chemo are a complete red herring. We all know that the parents based their foolhardy decision on their irrational acceptance of their daughter’s “visions” of Jesus, which convinced them that the treatment was no longer necessary. That is the salient factor that drove them to their horrible conclusion. Trying to paint this as something more “reasonable”, i.e. concern for the side effects of the treatment, makes one wonder if some of us are afraid to pin the blame squarely where it belongs. I highly doubt that parents unencumbered by ridiculous beliefs in an invisible magician who can cure diseases would have taken her off the chemo.

        2. “Then why try chemo at all?”

          Because she had a better chance of surviving and being cured, which means she wouldn’t have had to definitely die. If you know of a side-effect-free cure for leukaemia, I’m sure the doctors would love to hear about it.

          This isn’t some form of benevolent euthanasia for a terminally ill and tortured patient. This is a case of sheer ignorance and neglect, frustrating because it was avoidable and because of the astonishingly poor reasoning, hypocrisy, discriminatory undertones, and outrageous foolishness that motivated it.

          1. Yes and you aren’t on chemo non-stop. You usually get a dose than they wait 3 weeks or more to give you the next dose, etc. She would have been sick but not continuously. It is a blunt instrument, but it works.

          2. My comment was about the whole not wanting to do chemo because of their religion issue that everyone claims is the cause.

            I asked, why begin to use chemo at all if this is the case? Why didn’t they jump directly to alternatives or whatever.

            For some reason they gave her chemo for three months. And for some reason, after three months, they decided to quit. That’s why I’m asking why, and why I think this case isn’t as black and white as it may seem.

    2. “I hope these parents don’t ‘wake up’ in a few years and realize what they have done.”

      I hope that they do. And I hope that they trumpet this realization to the skies and actively campaign to prevent other deluded religious parents from making the same terrible mistake.

      Perhaps then they can make some good of this tragedy.

    3. But on the other hand, I’ve read patients saying that chemo is a lot worse than the symptoms of the cancer.

      Maybe — how would they know? Untreated cancer can be incredibly painful. Orac over at Respectful Insolence has written eloquently about the sometimes romanticized view of a “natural death” vs. the agonizing reality. If end stage cancer is somehow more bearable than chemo, it might be because they will administer much stronger drugs for the former than the latter.

      1. End stage cancer is treated differently depending on the cancer and what the patient wants. However, it’s never treated to cure the cancer. It’s goal is to make things better for a while.

      2. There were several frightening things in my mind before I started chemo for leukemia, but the one that scared me most wasn’t the side-effects of treatment; it was that I would be unable to tolerate them and give up, thus ensuring my future would be short. Let me tell you it isn’t so bad. Ondansetron and maintaining good hydration together will keep away most of the nastiness. I’ve only run into one small patch of misery caused by an infection, but otherwise it has been straightforward, interesting and educational. I’d better shut up before I sound too much like poor old JBS Haldane and his rectal carcinoma…..

    4. Chemo is usually much worse than the cancer unless you are in later stages and in a lot of pain. Radiation is nasty too if you are using it to treat internal organs.

      The chances were very good for this girl to get better using chemo. She had no chance using woo.

  20. Question about the Cold Laser Therapy as any type of treatment for cancer. Best I can see there is no such thing and it would not be allowed by FDA. Far as it seems, this Cold Laser Therapy is only used for arthritis pain and is considered about as good as a placebo.

  21. Canada also still has blasphemy laws on the books. The last time there was an attempt to enforce it was in an attempt to stop the screening of Life of Brian, in 1980.

    But the last time someone was convicted of it was in 1927. Some good quotes here:

    Sterry’s particular crime was to call God an “irate Old Party who thunders imprecations” and prefers the smell of roast cutlets to that of boiled cabbage.

    He also called God a “frenzied megalomaniac.”

    1. We’re working on getting rid of those. But remember, we had a practicing Catholic in office for many years and he famously said two things:

      1) The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation (as he eliminated sodomy laws)
      2) I don’t think God gives a damn whether he’s in the constitution or not (concerning that stupid preamble that got in there anyway).

      So, there is hope even if our current PM is gody.

  22. The logic of this belief in miracle cures from Jesus completely escapes me.

    Right off the bat, if I were the parents I would question why Jesus allowed my child to get cancer in the first place. If he is capable of curing it, was he not capable of preventing it?

    Also, the cure from God always seems conditional, as in the cure will not come until X is done. Parents may required to stop treatment, as way perhaps of showing the depths of their faith. Failure to meet these faith requirements could result in withholding of the cure. It never dawns on these religious people that any God that would fail to cure an innocent child due to a lack of appropriate faith and fealty from the parents is not a God to be venerated.

    This business of rejecting medical treatment is incredibly bizarre and irrational, and it is hard for me to look at parents in this situation as anything but murderers. I have to remind myself that religion can make good people think and do some outrageously stupid and cruel things.

    Finally and in regard to this particular case, if Jesus appeared and told this little girl that she was healed, why did they then need to seek additional treatment? And wasn’t her dying confirmation that she was in fact NOT healed???

    1. Over the last couple of years I have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, underwent a hysterectomy, etc., and then went through chemotherapy. [I only had three ’rounds’ but it gave me terrible pain, and when I asked for drugs they acted as though I were an addict. There were a few days where I felt like I wanted to die.]

      As I navigated the Internet among various forums for cancer, I came across the phenomenon described by blitz quite a lot and it was incredibly frustrating. One woman “praise[d] Jesus!” because she got some test or other in two days rather than waiting weeks as was the norm. Many other members were exuberant in sustaining this idea. I asked politely whether she really thought that it wasn’t a matter of money or locale or insurance or luck .. that God specifically intended for those *other* women to have crappy health care service??? It was a secular forum, but MY comment got censored, deleted, while all the Jesus-y comments remained on that thread and all the others. It’s really ridiculous and it is getting worse. People are much more vocal and aggressive about their religion in the US lately. I moved to a town in the Northeast and was asked what church I went to! I thought that stuff only happened in the Bible Belt…

  23. Medical science is not specific to a single culture, but is shared by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people alike.

    Bullshit. The quest for health is shared by all cultures. To earn the label “medical science”, that quest must be rigorous.

  24. I agree wholeheartedly with your article. I believe the reason that government allowed this child to die is that to have forcibly, and it would have to have been by force, taken her from her parents would have had First Nations people at the barricades not only in Port Credit but across the nation.

    A couple of years back members of the Six Nations occupied a housing development, claiming that it was on Indian land. The Ontario Provincial Police were unable to do anything about it. The provincial government bought the land from the developer to calm what could have become a very ugly affair.

    Forcibly taking this child for treatment would, probably, have been impossible. Such is the mistrust generated by the legacy of ill treatment of Canada’s indigenous peoples.

    1. I agree. Foisting Christianity on these indigenous peoples was probably the greatest example of this legacy of ill-treatment.

      Anyone else confused how respecting these parents’ Christian beliefs, beliefs that are based on a Western religion that was often forced on indigenous peoples of the world, is somehow respecting the culture of indigenous peoples?

      1. It is pretty ironic, isn’t it. “What Jesus wants” seems to be the “get-out-of-jail-free” card in both cases.

  25. Reblogged this on StudentGonzo and commented:
    Science is not a conspiracy. Medicine is not a conspiracy. Relying on faith and “traditional” alternatives is deadly. The ever vigilant Jerry Coyne elaborates on the latest victim of First Nations “medicine” in Canada.

    1. Having read that link, I’d say Robert Latimer made absolutely the right and only rational choice in an appalling situation, even though the legal consequences were terrible for him. NO credit to the RCC or the hypocritical ‘disability rights’ groups who wanted to persecute him further.

  26. I don’t fully understand a persons strong commitment to freedom of religion and then strong condemnation of the expression of that religion.
    Is it a defense of religious belief as long as the religious belief accords with your own beliefs?

      1. It seems obvious. But why that particular harm. Religious indoctrination is, in my mind, harmful in many ways, but still allowed.
        As a fellow call Justicar said, one should be careful when inviting the government to criminalize things. As has been seen, give them an inch and they will take a mile.
        Some believe that as a matter of various personal freedoms including free speech and free thought these things a sacrosanct.
        When it comes to appreciating the deep questions of existence, the mystery the numinous, whatever that that is a protected freedom. As is a parents right to raise there kids with their beliefs, at least to a point.
        As has been pointed out, the number of kids killed because of the convenience of the automobile, not necessity but casual use, the death rate is acceptable. For a fundamental right, should not some regrettable casualties be a fair price to pay?

        To me religion is absurd and there should be strong arguments against protecting it, but if you do protect it then to be consistent some casualties may ensue.

        1. Your hesitations are why this is an interesting conversation. It is not always as black and white as this particular case suggests. Lines must be drawn.
          One idea formulated some time ago was that children should not be under the influence of their parents. This goes against some of our instincts but it has some reasonable rational. The problem of parents is that they perpetuate attitudes that defeat the evolution of a humane and enlightened society. Communal child rearing in the Kabbutz is an example of a solution. Obama, in his state of the union last night, proposed nationally supported child care to liberate women who want to work. Creeping socialism?
          The parent will often perpetuate superstition and ignorance. The state might therefore end the cycle of harmful beliefs and bring on more socially responsible citizens.
          I think the U.S.A. is still recoiling from the communist ideology of the last century. Anything that sounds unlike Romneyesque free for all enterprise is anathema. Just don’t go there.

          1. I agree with that last point, strongly. That massive automatic anti communist recoil has been a great boon the forces of the economic right and made even simple social care ideas difficult.
            And the other point too. The things some kids have to endure is unbelievable, and I’m only talking about education.

            I like the idea of some way to expose kids some kind of objective ideas, to break out of the perpetuation of superstition and ignorance. It is THE thing the world needs, that and no hitting.

            However, as you say, there is a pervasive strong belief that parents can do almost anything to their kids, as I have found out arguing against spanking or physical abuse as a tool.
            Your ideas are good.
            A bit of creeping socialism may be a good thing.

    1. What rickflick said. I doubt many defenders of religious freedom would also defend child sacrifice if people decided to start worshipping Tlaloc in the traditional ways again. This case isn’t particularly different in outcome since the actions of the parents guaranteed the death of Makayla.

      An obvious real world example is ISIS, who sincerely believe they’re practicing their religion the way it’s supposed to be practiced.

      1. It didn’t guarantee her death. It made it highly likely to our way of thinking but for them, presuming honesty in their assertions, they did not regard that outcome as certain.

        I agree that extremes of religious belief are untenable, which is why I think it should be nipped in the bud.
        So I don’t want to hear any shrieking for peoples rights to religious belief, which I have heard here, constitution or otherwise.

        Then again, as I said above, perhaps just a few deaths are acceptable to protect such a fundamental right. As there are acceptable losses in other areas.

    2. Children are always a special case …

      As appalling as I find quackery, the situation would have been very different to me if the victim had been over the age of medical consent, whatever that may be.

  27. ‘The judge said this:

    “I cannot find that J.J. is a child in need of protection when her substitute decision-maker has chosen to exercise her constitutionally protected right to pursue their traditional medicine over the Applicant’s stated course of treatment of chemotherapy,” Edward said, as he read his ruling aloud.’

    Well, of course. Apparently a child is a slave and/or a piece of property!

  28. When some have the victim mentality, there’s just no winning.

    If you forcefully treat the girl, then she will be alive but the parents will blame the side-effects of chemo on you, and they will be less trusting.

    If you don’t forcefully treat the girl, then this happens: she dies, and the parents blame her death on the chemo for “making her worse”.

    If you completely let them do what they want, either you will be condemned for neglect, or worse others will want the same “right”.

    It doesn’t matter what your “version of” “reality” is, the aboriginals know about the “truth” as oppressed and lied-to conspiracy theorists tend to do.

    The victim mentality disgusts me.

    Letting a child kill herself out of ignorance is no better than statutory rape. You wouldn’t lower a child’s age of consent to zero even if her ancestors were oppressed natives, so why would you allow her to make this discretion?

    Why? Because they had the victim mentality, and people have a shitty habit of enabling victims.

  29. Alongside the Canadian government shouldn’t we also be lambasting the State of Florida for allowing these quacks to operate?

  30. Although the parents clearly made the wrong decision in this case (as I said before), the general issue of what to do when parents and doctors disagree about how to treat a seriously ill child is problematic and complex. First, you have to establish beyond reasonable doubt what the best course of treatment is – and it is not always as clear cut as it seems to be in this case. Medical practitioners themselves sometimes disagree, and some considerations are always going to be subjective, especially where quality of life is an issue. Then, you have the practical and ethical problem of how to enforce a course of treatment which the parents and the child may oppose. (It’s all very well to say the child is too young to decide, but that doesn’t make the practical problem evaporate.) In my opinion, you have to be cautious about granting third parties the power to effectively take charge of other people’s children. Sometimes it’s necessary – but you have to be cautious. There are countless cases where this authority has been misused (not always deliberately). For example, in the UK, over 100 children were forcibly removed from their parents after a diagnostic test called Reflex Anal Dilation showed they had been sexually abused. The test was subsequently discredited.

  31. The thing is, if I had a child, and they were sick, I would do anything to save them, and if the chemotherapy was working, despite it weakening the child, why not continue? Not doing all that they can (not all that they want to do, all that they can, including the things that were working) is what makes them ignorant parents, in my opinion.

    Plus, just because the child had a vision of Christ and didn’t want to continue doesn’t mean that it was a good thing, or that it was a “sign”. I’m pretty sure if she had seen Buddha or some other supposed deity, they would simply think she is hallucinating. That could have been one of the chemotherapy’s side effects, not a sign of faith, and certainly not something to listen to.

    I don’t mind the natives of any country using their religious or spiritual practices alongside medical treatment, and I think that at the very least, respect should be given to that…but when one thing, medical intervention, is proven to work, there shouldn’t be any reason to refuse it, on religious grounds, or otherwise, especially when one is trying to save a child’s life.

  32. It’s fantastic that you’re talking about this Jerry.

    But you made one mistake. The idea Native people are “uncomfortable” with modern medicine is sheer fabrication by these two ghastly doctors writing in the CMAJ. If you actually know the Canadian situation what they say is even more evil and nutty. Extreme racism against Native people in Canada is a well-documented fact. Especially by doctors and police. Native people are often accused of being drunk when they seek help from doctors or police. A few years ago two women were murdered by the estranged husband of one of them after they called 911 and the dispatcher didn’t send anyone because she thought that the woman was drunk. Funny thing, drunk people get murdered all the time. The volume of medical depredations against Native people in Canada that I know about just from watching the news would fill a book. And considered an ongoing outrage by every liberal and left-wing person in Canada. The only “Native discomfort” with the healthcare system is having to deal with crazy racist doctors, like something out of Mississippi. And not being able to access the flippin healthcare system. Including because the healthcare available on remote Native reserves is at a Third World level. Whole towns and all they have is a nursing station. No doctors, no hospitals.

    These doctors’ comments are political correctness/multiculturalism being used to dodge the reality of economic neglect.

    Plus the Native people in the story were Jesus keeners. The judge and news keep talking about traditional Native healing. But how is Jesus coming to you in a vision or anything to do with Jesus part of traditional Native culture? This is another example of the nuttiness of the Christians. Exactly who’s *culture* do they imagine Native culture is different from? As well as the fact that this fly-by-night place in Florida was NOT providing Native healing stuff. Which is not some big opponent of real medical care anyway. There’s no big movement in Canada by Native people to avoid normal medicine. I find it absolutely astonishing that this Family Court judge, with unusual powers to ferret around in the lives of people, made no comment on and was not called on the fact that this Florida place was NOT Native healing. I mean WTF? That was the whole raison d’être for his crazy ruling!

    (Sorry this is so long. This makes me really angry.)

  33. Slightly as an aside: I hate it when people talk about “western medicine” as though it’s a cultural thing. Modern medicine is science based and works irrespective of where you live. The idea of science based medicine may have started in western europe but is now a global thing with advances being made all over the world.
    Traditional western medicine, in the sense that we talk for traditional chinese medicine or traditional aboriginal medicine, involved herbs, correcting “humours”, bloodletting and prayer in association with phases of the moon.

  34. This is a tragic story, but sadly we see this more and more, stupid and archaic beliefs interring with common sense and good practice.

    Chemotherapy is unpleasant, seen several people go through this, and I never wish to have to experience it personally, but the alternatives are laughable if the subject was not so serious.

    What is annoying is that these very same people who put their children’s lives at risk would ridicule a Chinese Medicine practitioner for using Tiger Penis or Rhino Lips….what they don’t get is that it is the same mumbo jumbo nonsense.

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