Does the government have the right to force any adult to have any medical procedure?
Many of you who read my blogs probably are aware that I am a proponent of women’s reproductive rights. But, being pro-choice doesn’t just entail standing up for women who choose when and if they become pregnant. Being pro-choice also means that I will defend any woman’s right to have children, as well. No government has the right to force any woman to have a baby, and they certainly shouldn’t have the right to sterilize women, either.
Well, a judge in Montana thinks otherwise. Recently, a cancer patient from Missoula, Montana, who is only identified as L.K., refused to undergo a hysterectomy as treatment for her cancer. She refused surgery because she is very religious and wants to have children in her future. A psychiatrist and a physician from the Montana State Hospital deemed her religious beliefs, including her belief that God had cured her, delusional.
The physician testified at a March 1 hearing that without treatment, her cancer could kill her within the next three years. The doctor stated that her “religious delusions” interfered with her ability to make reasoned decisions about her care, and that L.K. didn’t understand that she might die without the surgery, states the petition.
“L.K.’s dignity and bodily integrity are at stake and,” the petition argued, “...under the Montana Constitution her dignity is inviolable, including when her life or health is potentially at risk.”
The petition also went on to say, “L.K then testified on her own behalf that she did understand that she had been diagnosed with cancer and that she did understand the risks of dying if she did not have the hysterectomy procedure.”
Arthur L. Caplan, who heads the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania stated that, “The more a disease or a problem for an adult is life-threatening, the more likely it is that treatment is compelled if the person is mentally impaired.”
Caplan goes on to say, “Normally, we don’t force treatment on adults. Competent adults can even refuse even lifesaving treatments on religious terms. The challenge is to establish that they truly are incompetent and that they really do comprehend the risk posed to their life.”
It would be more understandable why a judge would get involved if, let’s say, L.K. was making health-related decisions for her child and using religion as a reason as to why she wouldn’t allow a medical procedure to happen. But, this is her body, her choice to make. If she is aware that her life could end if she doesn’t accept the surgery, then how mentally incompetent could she be?
We have to be very careful when heading down this road. Women who choose (or not to choose) to have children, for whatever reason, could all be deemed “mentally incompetent” and forced to undergo (or not undergo) procedures related to their reproductive health.
As Stacey Anderson, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Montana, stated, “The primary question is when the court starts ordering any sort of health care, it opens up the door for the slippery slope argument....Government intrusion into very private decisions is troubling....In other states, when a woman doesn’t comply with what people think is best for her, that’s frequently the route they go----to get someone declared incompetent. And, that’s troubling.”
Troubling indeed. As for now, the Supreme Court of Montana is giving the public defender 30 days to appeal the District Court order.
“L.K. will argue on appeal that the district court erred in determining that she is an incapacitated person with respect to this decision,” state the motion seeking the Supreme Court stay, “and that the district court’s authorization of an involuntary hysterectomy violated L.K.’s constitutional rights to personal autonomy, dignity, and religious freedom.”