You pray - and you act

By CONNIE WOODCOCK -- Toronto Sun -- July 10, 1999  

Let's pretend that you have a 13-year-old son who has a cancerous tumour growing in his leg.

 Do you pray for a miracle?
 Do you allow the doctors to proceed with radical treatment - amputation, followed by chemotherapy?
 Or do you head off to Mexico to pursue alternative therapy from purveyors of ground-up peach pits, mega-vitamins and shark cartilage, all the while declaring your faith in God's will?
 Well, I know what I would do - I would believe that doctors who deal with cancer probably know better than I do. If my child objected, I would do my best to make him see the bright side - that he would have a better chance to live to grow up - and in the end, force him to go along with the treatment.
 I don't know much about cancer, but I do know quite a lot about 13-year-olds and one of the things I know is that at 13, you're still a child. At 13, you probably can't imagine anything worse than having your leg cut off. At the same time you're too young to know that you're not immortal. Thirteen-year olds - and 15- and 17-year-olds - can't seem to picture themselves dead. They still believe that life goes on forever and that's why they sometimes do stupid things. Like driving while drunk, for example. And, I guess, like refusing to permit potentially life-saving surgery.
 That's why they need their parents to make the tough decisions they are too young to make on their own.
 Tyrell Dueck's parents didn't and Tyrell, who was 13, died two weeks ago, leaving behind the big what-if question. What if the government of Saskatchewan had moved to compel treatment when the boy's cancer was first diagnosed instead of some time later?
 Ever since Tyrell's death, I've been waiting for someone to deal with this question and a number of people have danced around it, but no one has come right out and said it: Tyrell might still be alive - and perhaps even be well along the road to recovery - right now, had he received the proper treatment at the proper time.
 Perhaps he wouldn't have survived anyway - his cancer was particularly aggressive - but perhaps he would have. Everyone involved in the story - the doctors, the boy's parents and the provincial government - needs to think about it.
 The Dueck case is one of the most disturbing stories I've ever heard. Doctors in Saskatoon diagnosed his cancer months ago, but his family, fundamentalist Christians, did not like the options, although the boy did have some chemotherapy before refusing it. The government then went to court to compel treatment but by the time it won, it was already too late. The cancer, the doctors found, had spread to the boy's lungs. The Duecks, meanwhile, declared their faith in alternative medicine and the will of God and spent $50,000 taking their boy to a treatment centre in Mexico where laetrile and shark cartilage were amongst the remedies being offered. Six weeks later, he died.
 Earlier this week, the doctor at the Mexican clinic, Dr. Jose Henriquez, said he came to the same conclusion, eventually, as the doctors back home in Saskatoon: amputation was Tyrell's only hope.
 As soon as God comes into a story, people often get really uncomfortable. When it was suggested that the Duecks' faith was the reason behind their unwillingness to go ahead with conventional treatment, many media types backed off the story. Let's face it, in this day and age, lots of people have no connection with or knowledge of any church and don't feel safe getting into an argument with people who do.
 But if you do believe in the deity, you also believe that God helps those who help themselves. The Dueck boy's parents didn't do all they could have to help and now their son is dead. No doubt they've suffered enough without anyone pointing out the obvious: stupidity is not illegal but sometimes you have to wonder if perhaps it should be.

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