After brief protest, teen agrees to undergo chemotherapy

Rabbi mediates between family of 16-year-old cancer patient, hospital to obtain teenager’s consent

A 16-year-old cancer patient calls for the public to protest his forced chemotherapy treatment. 'Even if I have to die,' he says, 'let me die with dignity -- that is all I'm asking.' (Screenshot via Channel 2 News)
A 16-year-old cancer patient calls for the public to protest his forced chemotherapy treatment. 'Even if I have to die,' he says, 'let me die with dignity -- that is all I'm asking.' (Screenshot via Channel 2 News)

A 16-year-old Israeli cancer patient ordered by a court to undergo chemotherapy on Monday consented to the treatment, a day after he launched a protest to allow him to “die with dignity.”

The teen agreed to the medical procedure after Rabbi David Grossman, the rabbi of Migdal Haemek, mediated between the family and the hospital, Channel 2 reported.

The Rambam Medical Center said earlier that it would not administer chemotherapy against the patient’s will, and would consult with the teenager during every stage of treatment.

In a video released Sunday, the teenager urged people to help him fight the mandated treatment, saying that “even if I must die, let me die with dignity.”

Last week, a judge in the northern city of Tiberias ordered police to take the teenager back to the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa for treatment after he ran away from the hospital.

In the video, the teenager, whose identity is not being released, says, “Dear nation of Israel, I ask that all those who can, come demonstrate here at the entrance of Rambam Medical Center in Haifa against the forced treatment they want to give to me.”

“Even if I have to die,” he said, “let me die with dignity — that is all I’m asking.”

Only a small crowd showed up to demonstrate on Monday, according to Channel 2 News.

The teen, who comes from an ultra-Orthodox home, told Channel 2 last week, “These treatments, they won’t help me. They will only make things worse. Only prayer will help me heal.”

This case has arisen as the benefits of chemotherapy are being hotly debated by medical professionals.

Last week, the Oncology Journal of the American Medical Association published a study showing that, in many cases, chemotherapy has a negative effect on the period leading up to a patient’s death.

Through interviews with family members and loved ones of the deceased, in cases where patients received chemotherapy, 56 percent were reported to have had a worse quality of life in their last week, compared with 31 percent of those who did not undergo treatment.

“It worsened quality of life for those that are relatively healthy, and those are the ones that the guidelines support treating,” Dr. Charles D. Blanke, an oncologist at Oregon Health and Science University — who was not involved in the study — told The New York Times. “Chemotherapy is supposed to either help people live better or help them live longer, and this study showed that chemotherapy did neither.”

The study followed some 312 patients with terminal prognoses, half of whom opted for chemotherapy treatments. The results of the study have since been published in news outlets around the world.

Last year at his doctors’ request, a family court in Tiberias ordered the boy, who suffers from lymphatic leukemia, to submit to chemotherapy and radiation treatments against his will and that of his parents.

The court said the boy had not received accurate information regarding his chances of recovery if he ceased the invasive treatment.

The boy was diagnosed six years ago with blood cancer, which went into remission after he underwent a standard course of chemotherapy treatment. Several months later, the cancer returned and doctors at Haifa’s Bnai Zion Medical Center concluded that a new course of chemotherapy and radiation would give him a good prognosis.

They warned that delaying or forgoing treatment would likely cause the cancer to spread to his bone marrow, complicating treatment options and drastically reducing his chances of recovery.

However, his parents rejected the doctors’ proposed treatment plan, saying their son’s post-surgery test results showed that the cancer had been successfully eliminated and that their son was healthy. They argued that another course of treatment would negatively impact his physical and emotional health.

The parents also said their family rabbi had instructed them to discontinue treatment, and that their son would make a full recovery if he was brought home.

The boy also rejected the renewed treatment. In a discussion with a social worker with whom he spoke at the time, he likened his hospital stay to a “prison term.” He said that he would rather go home, play with his friends and die, rather than be readmitted to the hospital, undergo chemotherapy and then die.

During the hearing, the court-appointed social worker dismissed the boy’s objections and told the judge that he did not fully understand his diagnosis, treatment or recovery options.

The Tiberias Family Court then appointed a medical expert who strongly agreed with the assessment of the doctors at Bnai Zion, and urged both the court and the boys’ parents to readmit him immediately.

In June 2014, Family Court Judge Vered Ricanati-Roshar ordered the boy to undergo treatment, despite objections from him and his parents. In her ruling, she wrote that “postponing the treatment would put the boy’s life in significant danger.”

In response to the boy’s refusal to accept treatment, Rambam Medical Center told Channel 2, “The hospital is not a prison — the responsibility for the minor staying in the hospital to receive treatment is that of the parents.

“As long as the court does not order the police to ensure that the patient stays in the hospital, we have no way to prevent a 16-year-old boy from leaving the hospital when he is under his parents’ care,” added Rambam.

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