Mom of teen forced to undergo chemo speaks out

Jackie Fortin agrees it's her daughter, Cassandra's choice to refuse to treat her cancer with chemotherapy.
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(CBS) -- The state of Connecticut placed a teenager into protective custody and is forcing her to undergo chemotherapy , a treatment she doesn't want.

The patient, known only as Cassandra because she is a minor, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in September. She doesn't want to use a treatment she believes is poisonous, and has the full support of her mother, reports CBS News correspondent Don Dahler.

It has spawned an ongoing legal battle, as the 17-year-old believes she deserves to make her own decisions about her life.

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Mother Jackie Fortin agrees it's Cassandra's choice to refuse to treat her cancer with chemotherapy. It's a choice she would have if she were 18 years old and legally an adult.

"She does not want the toxins. She does not want people telling her what to do with her body and how to treat it," Fortin said -- even if there's a good chance those toxins might be killing the cancer.

"They are also killing her body. They are killing her organs. They're killing her insides. It's not even a matter of dying. She's not going to die," Fortin said.

Ultimately, she will have to take some step to fight the deadly disease.

"She will, but she should have the choice herself," Fortin said.

The family searched for alternative treatments and second opinions, but a judge ordered Cassandra to undergo chemotherapy. After two just treatments, she ran away from home. The Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) interceded and placed Cassandra into protective custody.

"Without me, standing by her side, while she's losing her hair. Getting sick, throwing up," Fortin said. "This is not right."

The state says Fortin failed to obtain life-saving treatment for her child.

"We really do have the expert testimony, the expert advice of physicians who are saying unequivocally if she does not get the treatment that she needs she will die," DCF's Kristina Stevens said.

"What really triggers this confrontation with her refusal is you have something that works. The numbers are between 85 and 90 percent success rates," said Arthur Caplan, head of the medical ethics division at NYU Langone Medical Center. "The idea that you're going to say no to something that can save your life really makes the state pay attention when that person is a minor."

The family filed an emergency appeal with the state supreme court in December.

"The state should have to hold a hearing and decide whether she's mature enough before it can force her against her will to have treatment," Fortin's attorney Michael Taylor said.

Fortin is permitted to see her daughter just twice a week during supervised visits.

"She's almost 18 years old. And this to me really, really breaks my heart and kills me," Fortin said. "I'm proud of her. I am proud of her for standing up and fighting for what she wants and what she doesn't want."

Connecticut's supreme court will begin hearing arguments on Thursday. Fortin's attorney will ask the justices to apply the mature minor doctrine used in several other states to allows certain minors to make major life decisions. He will also argue Cassandra has the constitutional right to bodily integrity.