Recently a story about a teenage girl being forced to undergo chemotherapy made headlines. The seventeen year old was told she needed to undergo a treatment that she decided she did not want, and her mother supported that decision. The state then decided that the mother made the “wrong” choice by not forcing her almost-adult daughter to undergo the treatment, took custody of the girl, and forced her into surgery and treatment themselves. The girl ran away from her foster home, they brought her back and the court decided she couldn’t choose NOT to undergo the chemo.
This story, while extreme, is terrifying to me as both a person and a mother. It shows how very little control we actually have over what is done to our bodies in the name of “saving us”, and the fact that the courts can actually take our rights away is something that is deeply frightening. The worst part is that a lot of comments on such news stories are in favor of the courts ruling, with the most offensive ones being that the seventeen year old girl “doesn’t know what’s best for her”.
To be clear, the only thing truly standing between this girl and her ability to choose for herself what she wants for her own body is one year or less, depending on where her birth month falls on the calendar. LESS THAT A YEAR, and she could have walked away from all of this with the “well-meaning” doctors only able to wring their hands and fret. LESS THAN A YEAR, and the forced removal from her mother’s care would have been seen as ridiculous and pointless. But because she’s still a “minor”, she’s not allowed to decide for herself what she wants, and more frightening, her mother isn’t “allowed” to support that choice?
I don’t know what’s worse; the fact that a nearly-grown woman can’t make choices about her own body or the fact that a parent doesn’t have the right to honor their nearly-grown child’s choices if the state is in disagreement.
Either way, I am horrified that in 2015 this is the direction the laws have been going. I’m terrified that CPS can forcibly remove a child from their parents for doing nothing more than trying to honor that child’s right to bodily autonomy. That CPS can threaten to take your kid for not being willing to drag them, kicking and screaming, to the hospital to force them to undergo a painful treatment they DO NOT WANT.
When I was 10 years old I felt I had the right to bodily autonomy. This was the year of the Measles/Rubella outbreak and the need for another booster shot. I was just as needle-phobic then as I am now, and I really did not want this shot. However, I made the decision to suffer through it because the risk of Measles and Rubella seemed like something that I would be less likely to avoid, and contracting such an illness could have affected my unborn baby. In the end, I’m happy that I knew enough back then to get that shot because it saved me a lot of worry when I had my son and another Measles outbreak happened a month after his birth. The fact that I had those antibodies in my milk for him made me feel a lot better.
But that was the very last shot I ever chose to receive. The next year was the 3 doses of Hep B vaccinations and I chose not to get them. I felt that the risk of having unprotected sex would be not applicable to me since I would always use condoms until I chose to be in a monogamous relationship. I wouldn’t have to worry about contracting it from used needles because the whole reason I wasn’t getting the shot was because I was terrified of needles. Finally, because I didn’t travel I wasn’t worried about contracting the virus through a contaminated ice cube. As for the Tetanus shot a few years later, I turned that down as well. I felt that IF I somehow miraculously came into contact with it through a rusty nail or the dirt (not likely since I’m an “indoor” girl) then I would simply go to the hospital to get the shot then and there. But getting the shot just to prevent it when there was very little chance of me coming into contact with it and there being a shot available if I needed it, I felt the anxiety to me wasn’t worth the shot.
I remember at 11 and 14 years old highlighting a passage in the information pamphlet stating that “if the minor seems to understand the risk and benefits of the immunization, they may decide for themselves whether they wish to receive it”. I showed this to my dad, feeling secure in my new-found knowledge that I could in fact say NO to anything I did not want. He thankfully supported my decision. He may not have been in agreement with it (in fact, I would have to get into several debates with various family members over my refusal even well into adulthood) but he didn’t force me. I even recall him speaking over the phone to the health nurse who had called to ask why the permission form had not been returned to the school and whether we intended to make an appointment outside of school hours. My dad basically told her “She doesn’t want it. Yes, she understands the risks, but she is more than capable of deciding for herself what she wants at this age and I cannot force her.” This was in the year 2000, and that nurse never bothered us after that phone call. It terrifies me to wonder what would have happened if I was 14 years old today, making that same choice. Would I have been able to avoid those needles or would my dad have lost custody of me so that the government could strap me down and force me to comply?
As a mother, though, this court ruling is even more frightening. It means that I cannot truly protect MY children, because if they make a choice that the system doesn’t agree with, I could lose my kids. Or if not me, then other mothers still stand to lose theirs in the states where these rulings are happening. It doesn’t matter if it’s in my own backyard or not; the fact is that regardless of whether these things happen in the US, England, Ireland, or here in Canada, they shouldn’t be. We should NOT be condoning these choices of the state overruling someone else’s choices for bodily autonomy, or overruling the rights of the parents to allow their children these rights to decide for themselves what they want. Because where do we draw the line? Already we have mothers being forced into c-sections and kids being taken away from loving homes because these mothers decide to either support their child’s choices or because they choose to go against doctor’s advice during pregnancy. When we can’t even be allowed to make choices for our own bodies then we no longer have any real freedom. And if WE can be forced into compliance, then we no longer have the ability to protect our children.
The boogeyman has never been more real than he is today, but he’s not hiding in our closets or under our bed; he’s sitting in plain site in court robes and hammering down verdicts that allow others to strap us down and cut us against our will.
I can’t think of anything more terrifying than that. Can you?