Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Judge Forces Hysterectomy on God-Loving Woman


The following story reads like it was lifted directly from the script of a controversial medical drama like Grey's Anatomy. But those shows are fictional, and, sadly, this heartbreaking story is actually true.

A cancer patient in Montana -- identified only as L.K. -- refused to undergo a hysterectomy as treatment for her cancer on the grounds that she is deeply religious and wants to have children. That's sad enough in it's own right. But no one could have foreseen what happened next: A judge found her "mentally incompetent" based on her "delusional religious beliefs" and ruled she was to have the procedure.

The Montana Supreme Court has halted the surgery to allow for an appeal, but in the interim let's ponder this question: Since when do we force people to be sterilized in this country?

On one side of the case we have L.K.'s physician and psychiatrist testifying that without the surgery she could die in three years and that her “religious delusions” -- namely, that God had cured her -- interfered with her ability to make reasoned decisions about her care.

On the other, we have L.K. herself saying that while she did understand that she had been diagnosed with cancer and did understand the risks of dying if she did not have the procedure, she didn't want it. (She also said that she might change her mind later about following her doctors’ recommendations.) Alas, this wasn't enough to convince Judge Karen Townsend that she was of sound mind.

To be fair, it's likely that Townsend acted in what she thought was the best interest of this woman: By ordering L.K. to have the lifesaving surgery, she was potentially saving her life. However, an involuntary hysterectomy -- do I even have to say it? -- violates a woman's dignity and autonomy. The court is inserting itself into a very private matter: how a woman chooses to treat her illness. Not to mention the fact that the argument that L.K. was incapacitated because of her delusional religious beliefs is a direct challenge to her right to religious freedom.

In other words, is adherence to strong religious beliefs even in the face of a life-threatening disease a sign of incompetency? I think there are some people -- maybe even a lot of people who might call that "faith."

Do you think this woman should be forced to have a hysterectomy?


Image via steakpinball/Flickr