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Ailing aboriginal girl receiving both chemo & traditional medicine: judge hears

04/24/2015 05:45 EDT | Updated 07/23/2015 08:59 EDT
BRANTFORD, Ont. - An 11-year-old First Nations girl whose decision to refuse chemotherapy in favour of traditional aboriginal medicine caused an uproar last year is now receiving both treatments as she fights a rare form of leukemia.

A Brantford, Ont., judge, who ruled last November that as a First Nation person, the girl had the right to choose her health-care procedures, was back on the case Friday to provide a clarification of his original ruling, which many said would put the girl's life at risk.

"Implicit in this decision is that the recognition and implementation of the right to use traditional medicines must remain consistent with the principle that the best interests of the child remain paramount," said Justice Gethin Edward.

The "clarification" was requested by all parties involved, including the Ontario Attorney General's Office, in an effort to avoid dragging the girl's family through the courts.

Edward said he was struck by something the girl's mother said during the original trial.

"I will not let my baby die," she said at the time.

"Implicit in those seven words," the judge told court Friday, "was that regardless of what this court said or did, or anyone else for that matter, what was paramount for the mother was what was in her daughter's best interests."

Last September, the girl's mother removed her from a hospital in Hamilton where she was undergoing chemotherapy treatment, and took her to a controversial Florida centre that promotes alternative treatments.

That decision prompted the McMaster Children's Hospital to take the Brant Family and Children's Services to court, seeking to have the child apprehended and placed back into chemotherapy.

The judge dismissed the hospital's application in November, saying traditional aboriginal treatments were in existence before First Nations communities were in contact with Europeans, and were consequently entitled to special protection in Canada.

In January, the family claimed the girl's cancer had gone into remission and that she was doing well. But court heard Friday that the cancer returned in March and the girl is now undergoing both aboriginal medical treatment as well as chemotherapy.

The girl, whose name can not be revealed, smiled in court when the judge came over to speak to her family.

Her case and that of another cancer-stricken First Nations girl who died in January after refusing chemotherapy, sparked a national conversation on aboriginal peoples' right to opt out of the health-care system.

At the end of Friday's hearing, all the lawyers involved in the case, who represented the family, the hospital, the Brant Family and Children's Services, the girl's Six Nations community and the attorney general, thanked each other for working together to find a resolution.

"In some way it's a lesson to lawyers and governments that this can be done," said the family's lawyer, Paul Williams.

"The same thing is true for the two systems of medicine."

Williams said after court that the girl is now receiving both aboriginal medicine and "western" medicine, but wouldn't elaborate on her prognosis or where he's receiving treatment.

The family did not comment after the hearing.

The girl's mother said in February at a conference on aboriginal medicine that she had met with provincial government officials and they have been "respectful and compassionate."

"The issue is not whether traditional medicine will be respected, but how it will be respected and how and when the two systems can work together," she said at the time.

"The two systems have taught each other and learned from each other for nearly 400 years — they share medicines and they have the same purpose."

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