Two young aboriginal girls both had been diagnosed with the same type of aggressive cancer and both were receiving chemotherapy for their illness. In both cases, their mothers decided to withdraw their children from conventional cancer treatment and pursue aboriginal healing methods. In one case, the hospital asked the Children’s Aid Society to intervene and seek a court order to force the child back into treatment. The Children’s Aid Society refused, stating that the child (J.J.) had capacity to make her own decisions. It argued that J.J. was not a child in need of protection but rather a child in need of a diagnosis. Justice G.B. Edward, who is a member of the Six Nations Band, issued a decision that shocked many observers. He wrote: “It is this court’s conclusion therefore, that D.H.’s decision to pursue traditional medicine for her daughter, J.J. is her aboriginal right. Further, such a right cannot be qualified as a right only if it is proven to work by employing the Western medical paradigm. To do so would be to leave open the opportunity to perpetually erode aboriginal rights.”
Reaction was swift. The Globe and Mail editorialized: “The decision is appalling and cries out for reversal. It is tainted by an overwrought defensiveness about the value of aboriginal culture. It runs counter to the traditions of Canada, whose statutes and court rulings have consistently placed the protection of children above the rights and personal beliefs of parents. And it leaves any rational person aghast.”
On the other hand, Chief Ava Hill, of the Six Nations of Grand River said: “This is a precedent-setting decision…for our people across the country. We were the first people here. We looked after ourselves. We had our traditional medicines. And we looked after your ancestors when they arrived here. What medicines do you think we used?”
To date, J. J. seems to be doing well. In the other situation, the little aboriginal girl removed from treatment has died.