A Little Girl Died Because Canada Chose Cultural Sensitivity Over Western Medicine

Jan 26, 2015

Image credit: Two Row Times / YouTube

By  Jerry A. Coyne

On Monday, Makayla Sault, an 11-year-old from Ontario and member of the Mississauga tribe of the New Credit First Nation, died from acute lymphoblastic leukemia after suffering a stroke the previous day. This would normally not be big news in Canada or the U.S.except for the fact that Makayla’s death was probably preventable and thus unnecessary.

Makayla died not only from leukemia, but from faiththe faith of her parents, who are pastors. They not only inculcated her with Christianity, but, on religious grounds, removed her from chemotherapy to put her in a dubious institute of “alternative medicine” in Florida. At the Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach, Makayla was treated with a combination of raw food, vitamin C injections, and “cold laser therapy,” none of which have been shown to have the slightest effect on leukemia. (The Institute is being sued by former staff for operating a “scam.”) Her doctors say that if she had stayed on chemotherapy and standard treatment, she would have had a 75 percent chance of survival.

Makayla went off chemotherapy because the Canadian government and its child protective services refused to override the parents’ and child’s wishes to discontinue treatment; after supposedly having a vision of Jesus while in the hospital, Makayla had become convinced that chemotherapy was killing her. Indeed, after she died the family blamed the chemotherapy, claiming in a statement that “Makayla was on her way to wellness, bravely fighting toward holistic well-being after the harsh side-effects that 12 weeks of chemotherapy inflicted on her body. Chemotherapy did irreversible damage to her heart and major organs. This was the cause of the stroke.” This is a self-serving falsehood. Makayla’s oncologist says that she had a relapse of the leukemia, and that’s what killed her. Strokes are not uncommon in lymphoblastic leukemia because the disease increases the viscosity of the blood. That, not chemotherapy, is what caused her death.

In an eerily similar case, J. J., another 11-year old First Nations child with leukemia, and also from Ontario, refused chemotherapy in favor of alterative treatment. (She too was treated at the Hippocrates Health Institute.) In all likelihood J. J. will also die, since untreated lymphoblastic leukemia is fatal. In her case, the courts got involved, but a judge rejected the application of her hospital in Hamilton to have the Children’s Aid Society intervene and continue her chemotherapy. Judge Gethen Edward, in imposing what was in effect a death sentence, ruled, “I cannot find that J.J. is a child in need of protection when her substitute decision-maker has chosen to exercise her constitutionally protected right to pursue their traditional medicine over the Applicant’s stated course of treatment of chemotherapy.”

And that is the problema problem that makes the law and the Canadian government complicit in Makayla’s death. The so-called “right to pursue traditional medicine” is simply an unwarranted respect for faith, a “right” to impose the religious or superstitious beliefs of parents on their young, indoctrinated, or unreflective children. It is the “right” to harm children in the name of faith. And that “right” doesn’t exist for parents who simply impose quack cures on their children, for those parents can be jailed for child abuse, negligence, or even manslaughter.


Read the full article by clicking the name of the source located below.

32 comments on “A Little Girl Died Because Canada Chose Cultural Sensitivity Over Western Medicine

  • A tragic but inevitable outcome of superstition; absolutely unforgivable in the twenty first century. How that child must have suffered unnecessarily.

    But, at least, and at long last, it has been realized that there have been thousands of cases of FGM in the UK, and legislation has been drawn up outlawing it.

    It’s a start, but why did it take so long for the realisation to dawn?

    That’s a rhetorical question.



    Report abuse

  • 3
    Miserablegit says:

    You cannot blame the state for the family’s death wish on behalf of this tragic child, as is always the case religion poisons everything.



    Report abuse

  • I think you will find the issue is not so much their faith, but they are First Nation people, and as the article said, they have a constitutional right to use their own “medicine”. Their constitutional rights take precedence, and they chose to exercise them here.



    Report abuse

  • rod-the-farmer :

    Their constitutional rights take precedence, and they chose to exercise them here.

    As Dirty Harry put it so eloquently whilst uncovering the body of a victim, “What about her rights” ?

    You know all that feel good stuff about being born equal, and the right to life and the pursuit of happiness ?



    Report abuse

  • They not only inculcated her with Christianity, but, on religious grounds, removed her from chemotherapy to put her in a dubious institute of “alternative medicine” in Florida. At the Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach, Makayla was treated with a combination of raw food, vitamin C injections, and “cold laser therapy,” none of which have been shown to have the slightest effect on leukemia.

    Even the name is characteristic of the deceptions of faith-healing scamsters, – the words being based on the Hippocratic Oath of reputable qualified Doctors!

    http://guides.library.jhu.edu/c.php?g=202502&p=1335759
    Bioethics
    *The Encyclopedia of Bioethics (2003) says:

    “A document patterned after the Oath of Hippocrates appeared in 1948, when the newly organized World Medical Association (WMA) adopted the Declaration of Geneva. In 1991, 47 U.S. medical schools used it (Dickstein et al.).



    Report abuse

  • In a sense, yes the state is to blame for lacking the spine to accept the political fallout from forcing the issue.

    If the government up here really wanted to push it, they could have prevented this; this has happened before with the JW’s. In that case, the state did force the issue but because the family in question wasn’t Aboriginal, there wasn’t a massive hue and cry. In the two cases mentioned in the article however, both families are of Aboriginal descent which means there’s an entire industry salivating at the possibility of the Big Bad Gub’mint forcing Poor Little Natives into a “white man” program/treatment.

    This crap is a hold over from the (justifiable) suspicion generated by the residential school system from earlier in the country’s history. Long and the short of it, there’s a deep distrust of the government amongst Aboriginals, some justified, some most definitely not and whole legions of people who line up to oppose any further impositions by the state on the Aboriginals in this country. The best of said legion are simply emotional and misinformed. Others are professional whiners and victims; Pam Palmater being an example of the latter group. They’re organized, they’re obnoxious, they’re loud and they excel at PR manipulation. Truth be told, they’re rather like Islamic apologists, though generally far less odious and they do tend to have some of the facts on their side… usually.



    Report abuse

  • If the state will have no say in the matter of constitutional rights exercised by First Nations in cases like this, one would presume that assisted suicide would see no objections from the state should any First Nation person decide to exercise that right. After all, was that not the tradition in some parts of the North to leave elders in the snow when it was their ‘time’ to go to the spirit world?



    Report abuse

  • I have been following this story for months. Normally such a child would be taken from her flaky parents. In this case because the child was aboriginal, and because of all the fuss over children en masse been taken from their parents in the 50s and 60s to beat the Indian out of them in residential schools, it is politically difficult to take a child from aboriginal parents no matter how the parents abuse the child.

    The parents believed that prayer, vitamin C and diet would cure the advanced cancer. Chemo was estimated to have an 80% chance of success. A Florida clinic charging exorbitant fees assured them they could cure with woo. I consider lying like that murder. After the child died, the relatives defended their actions saying white oncologists knew nothing about curing cancer in native people. Natives responded only to prayer and “traditional” medicine. IV vitamin C in her view was similar to traditional medicine. This woman got to babble on and on and on in the CBC spreading her idiotic woo without being challenged by anyone.

    If you refuse your child medical care using treatments with clinical evidence they work, you are effectively refusing your child medical care. That should be a criminal offence. This is not alternative medicine, it is bogus medicine, it is no medicine.

    On the other hand I support Makayla’s right refuse a painful chemotherapy. She may consider 80% insufficient inducement.

    What I want absolutely stopped is governments funding “alternative” therapies without evidence they are effective. I also want to stop people from taking money for woo treatments and making claims they work.
    They should be charged with murder or attempted murder.



    Report abuse

  • 12
    Lorenzo says:

    I’d observe that a right to do whatever does not warrant immunity from the consequences that can follow. For example, you can have the right to own a car but if you run someone over you’re still going to jail. By the same token, if you want to go to your shaman (or a bunch of organized religious scammers) that’s your problem, as long as you pay them yourself; if that results in the death of your child, you’re still a murderous nut and you should be prosecuted.

    That said, which I think should hold in general, I’d go further in these cases, because I think these behaviors can be outlawed without limiting the right of an individual to refuse a medical treatment or dispose of one’s own life.
    I don’t think it’s just to consider parents as owners of their children: children are individuals and have the same rights as everybody else -though some of those rights may need assistance because they involve choices that children can’t make for themselves yet.
    By considering parents as advisors for their children when it comes to their rights, and not their owners and owners of their children’s rights, I think it’s perfectly sound, legally, to overrule the parents’ decisions when they are openly not in the best interest of the child: none of the two children was terminal and for both of them it was demonstrably better to continue the chemotherapy, thus removing them from medical treatment was not in the child’s best interest -and a blunt violation of their right to get the best medical treatment, although I don’t know to what extent this right is recognized in Canada.

    Anyway, I advise extreme caution while considering these topics because it’s all too easy to fall in the trap of inhibiting the right of an individual to refuse a medical treatment and the right of an individual to dispose of her own life: both of them belong to children but for both of them parental advice is necessary and the line between stopping religious nuts killing their children and forcing a life of suffering onto a child is very fine.

    What I find hateful beyond words in this whole story is the extent of mental abuse Makayla was victim of.



    Report abuse

  • There is no evidence that traditional medicine or prayer has any effect on leukemia. Relying on it is effectively refusal to offer any treatment. Ditto for the Hippocrates health treatments of Vitamin C, celery juice, “cold laser”. This is equivalent to Pfizer putting sugar pills in its cancer drug bottles, and charging thousand of dollars for them.

    Why must the court persist in calling these “alternative” therapies? They are not therapies of any kind. They do nothing! They are bogus. They are crooked. They are not alternative ways of curing.

    I think we should all be careful never to label this woo “alternative medicine”. If there were such a thing a new different working tested therapy, it would no longer be termed “alternative”.



    Report abuse

  • It’s a pity science can’t sue in situations like this for libel and slander. Using the word “Medicine” is a false pretence, on the scientific method, made with a view to making money from desperate and emotional people.

    To be convicted of the crime of False Pretenses, requires evidence to satisfy a jury of the following.

    Obtaining property by false pretensesa[›] is the obtaining of property by intentionally misrepresenting a past or existing fact.

    The Hippocratic Health Institute falsely pretends that it’s treatments cure leukemia with a view to obtaining property, namely money.

    If only we had legislators with the courage to make just laws.



    Report abuse

  • Stafford Gordon Jan 26, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    But, at least, and at long last, it has been realized that there have been thousands of cases of FGM in the UK, and legislation has been drawn up outlawing it.

    There seems to be action – with a struggle in Egypt.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-30983027
    .An Egyptian doctor has been convicted of the manslaughter of a girl who died after an illegal female genital mutilation procedure, activists say.

    Opponents of FGM were dismayed when Raslan Fadl was acquitted in November of charges relating to the death of 13-year-old Suhair al-Bataa.

    But after an appeal, a court in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura sentenced him to more than two years in prison.

    The campaign group Equality Now called the ruling a “monumental victory”.

    Although FGM was banned in Egypt six years ago, it remains widespread.

    Prosecutors argued that she was forced to undergo FGM by her father.

    Fadl was sentenced to two years in prison for manslaughter and three months for performing the FGM procedure, according to Equality Now. His clinic was also ordered to close for a year.

    Suhair’s father was meanwhile given a three-month suspended sentence.



    Report abuse

  • We have the right to refuse treatment. If we decide an alternative methodology it should be paid for by us. No government funding for such treatments. As far as children go the government can and should step in. They are the most vulnerable. But then again if we do not step in and enough people die the friends and family members of the dead can help spread the good word that religion offers false hope and fairytales and should be put on the back burner as part of our history. And yes we in Canada are still carrying guilt about the way we treated our aboriginal population so much so that we are bending backwards to make up for our pass mistakes. Thus driving a larger wedge between aboriginal and the rest of the population.



    Report abuse

  • Think of it is Darwin at work. You will never convince them otherwise, they have a two-step process: First step, everything they believe is a fact, Step two, if you have evidence to prove them wrong see Step one.



    Report abuse

  • It’s a more complex situation. Canada has a long history of racism, murder and cultural genocide regarding aboriginals, a lot of which the Catholic church played a significant part in. Given that history it’s not an entirely surprising outcome.

    Adults have the right to be blindingly stupid but The “Hippocrates Health Institute” and others like them that admit children, should suffer the legal equivalent of being set on fire and put out with an axe.



    Report abuse

  • 19
    Anthony says:

    .. sad as this is .. the Canadian government’s rights do not supersede those of the parental guardianship. This is a slippery slope to inch towards government intervention, as is the increasing common practice in merka. Wether the parents were either insanely desperate, or just insane, is not my call, nor is it with anyone else, including any child protective services. I respect the Canadian folks who made the crazy tough decision not to intervene. The issue of the Florida clinic and the “scam” is another issue entirely, since it operates under merkan law.



    Report abuse

  • Really??? So when did Christianity become a first nation belief and when did ‘cold lasers’ and a diet of raw food become “Native Medicines”?

    It was also decided on the fact that a child of 11 undergoing Chemo had a vision of Christ in her room telling her she had been cured. Some fool said that this 11 year old was ‘mature enough’ to make her own decisions. I defy anyone to tell me that an 11 year old knows what an hallucination is or the implications of medicines in inducing them.

    Look, when Andy Kaufman chucks in all the treatments on a very bad prognosis, that is his decision. He was mature enough to make it.

    When a child dies on a prognosis of 75% success, that is on the courts and the parents.

    She needed proper guidance and didn’t get it.



    Report abuse

  • There are no doctors on staff. The place is not a clinic. It is a licensed SPA which is currently in a lawsuit for practicing medicine without a license.

    The owner of this SPA often travels to Canada to drum up business and states emphatically in his lectures that they CURE cancer. Their literature however does not state that. THAT would be illegal.



    Report abuse

  • 22
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    Once again, a case of chronic political correctness and moral cowardice. Not only is the judge to blame but also the Brant Children’s Aid Society for placing cultural and “religious freedom” issues above the welfare of a child. This is a spectacular failure on their part.

    Yes adults DO have the right to be unbelievably ignorant and stupid, but they have no right to make their children suffer the consequences of their stupidity and not to mention gross irresponsibility.

    It’s just sickening. That child died for NOTHING. Meanwhile, the parents are being (quite undeservedly) cooed and lauded with imbecilic comments in the Canadian press comments section while they themselves reply with obscene noises like “She’s in Jesus’ arms now”… etc… The whole thing just makes me want to throw up.



    Report abuse

  • I’m inclined to agree, Anthony. As with freedom of speech, there are real dangers to real people associated with the right to parental freedom, and maintaining the principle is very costly.

    Yet we allow the principle to be eroded at our peril. Today’s government might be rational and benevolent, but what about tomorrow’s? The idea that a majority opinion – even a “scientific consensus” – is considered grounds for overriding a parent’s considered judgement, is anathema.

    It seems to me that the context of each specific case is all important. Are these parents abusive? Are their children systematically disadvantaged, endangered, or made unhappy, across a wide range of issues? If the parent is of sound mind, and shows that they have the genuine best interests of the child at heart, then I believe State interference is unjustified.

    There is a good apparent case for interference when life is at risk – after all, what are the feelings of the parents, compared to the life of the child? But I would argue that the argument for interference is akin to the argument for harvesting the organs of a healthy but unwilling person on the grounds that the organs will save the life of several others. Both involve the idea of a “greater good”. But neither one is accounting for the fact that the policy leaves every citizen feeling insecure about a possible assault on their rights. That’s not the kind of society free people want to live in. What if, tomorrow, the State forces me to treat my children is a way that I believe is fundamentally against their interests? Forced medications? Restrictions on travel? I’m not sure I trust the State to wipe its own nose, let alone have a say in how I bring up my children.



    Report abuse

  • 24
    Michael says:

    The government’s job is not to protect citizens from themselves, and I would argue this for euthanasia or possibly even suicide. Yet when a child is involved, it becomes much more complicated. I believe in personal rights, but a parent literally choosing to kill their child out of ignorance shouldn’t be allowed.

    Honestly it seems preventing one injustice causes another. Save the kid, lose more personal freedom and autonomy. To preserve freedom, let the child die. In my opinion, the judges made the right call this time.



    Report abuse

  • 25
    Lorenzo says:

    parental freedom

    And what’s that? And, whatever it may be, since you call it freedom, you are implying some sort of law system to support it, which in turn implies that there are things that can be done (for example, teaching your children some kind of weird sport) and things that cannot be done -for example, convincing them that they are dogs and behave as such.
    As contradictory as it might seem: when you speak about freedom you’re implying limits to what an individual is allowed to do in a particular field. Let’s take freedom of speech: there are things that can be said that can cost you legal prosecution -defamation, for example. And that’s because speech is free, not arbitrary.

    The idea that a majority opinion – even a “scientific consensus” – is considered grounds for overriding a parent’s considered judgement, is anathema.

    A State that deserves to be called civilized is founded on individual and collective rights and, in my view, its highest duty is to guarantee that those right are respected for each and every member of the Community. In an earlier comment, I stated that children, as persons, ave the exact same rights of adults; the difference is where rights protect their choices, in particular choices that they are still too immature and inexperienced to make for themselves. Thus parents are required to advise the child -and take those decisions for her. Because this is generally in the best interest of the child.
    But an issue can -and must, in some occasions, such as those presented in the OP- be raised if the parent’s decision may not be in the best interest of the child. Because we bothered to build a State to guarantee that everybody’s right are protected -children’s and parents’ alike.
    And, in this case, it’s not a moral debate whether it’s just to cure a sick child or else: the discussion is based on facts. The leukaemia in question was not a death sentence yet: properly cured, it had a good chance to heal.

    the argument for interference is akin to the argument for harvesting the organs of a healthy but unwilling person on the grounds that the organs will save the life of several others.

    I just quoted that because it’s just a stupid paragon, indeed. The argument for questioning those two couple’s decision was based on hard facts and it was not motivated by a “greater good” or the expendability of individuals in front of the Community. We are not ants nor Borg. The issue is motivated by the necessity of protecting the children’s rights. Namely the right to live (and the right to receive the best possible medical care, if such right is formulated in Canada. It is where I live).

    What if, tomorrow, the State forces me to treat my children is a way that I believe is fundamentally against their interests?

    Freedom is high maintenance. It requires every member of the Community to participate actively, to be vigilant and fundamentally to keep an eye out for authoritarian tendencies -and diffuse them.
    As long as a State stick to its function of guardian of individual and collective rights, though, I think you have very less to worry about it limiting your freedom of movement, speech etc. Of course, if you plan to teach your children that they are chickens and they should peck out of a bowl on the floor, you might expect the State to step in. Likewise, if you try to heal a leukaemia with prayers and laser pens, you should expect the State to step in.



    Report abuse

  • Hippocrates? It sounds like the word “Democratic” that always used by dodgy undemocratic republics like The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

    Claiming you can cure cancer when you can’t is as I understand it a crime here in the UK.
    This child should have been protected from this quackery,



    Report abuse

  • I find that in this article science is using the lowest publicity methods. How come Canada chooses cultural sensibility?, even if thats true, the problem in this case has its roots in Canada’s law system. So we are talking about society and not culture. Yes, her parents should had known better, and should had not followed their religious superstition, but culture isn’t only that, its a huge amount of other facts, believes and matters. So as we are used to, this article does the typical operation of putting science in an omniscient and superior plane just to have more attention. To be clear, I am not saying art is more important that medicine, of course that without health we might not be able to appreciate art, science and culture are complementar and obviously different in their functions . But, what I am saying is that to actually onor this poor girl’s memory, we should be more accurate, as scientists, as writers, etc. Putting the hole cultural sensitivity in such a bad light just to come up with a catching title, just to cheap. Scientist or writers that actually want to sensitize people about health or any topic, don’t need to acuse the hole cultural sensitivity, and most of all when the real fault was society’s law. And in the end, lets say the truth, even if this case breaks my heart, we are all free of choosing a treatment or not, for any reason. The only problem here is that it was a girl, that probably wasn’t ready to take this kind of decisions and sadly probably neither her parents.



    Report abuse

  • @OP – In an eerily similar case, J. J., another 11-year old First Nations child with leukemia, and also from Ontario, refused chemotherapy in favor of alterative treatment. (She too was treated at the Hippocrates Health Institute.)

    I think the key issue here, is that this is not some isolated remote uncontacted tribe which has no access to modern medicine.

    This is a quack clinic, in a developed country, operating for commercial profit, fraudulently offering children treatments which do not work.



    Report abuse

  • 30
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    I think the key issue here, is that this is not some isolated remote uncontacted tribe which has no access to modern medicine.

    And let’s not forget that the parents had access to the same health services as the non-natives in Canada, so the chemo treatments were free.

    (She too was treated at the Hippocrates Health Institute.)

    Which adds prejudice to injury because the so-called medical services in that “clinic” cost the family in excess of $18,000 CAD.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/doctor-treating-first-nations-girls-says-cancer-patients-can-heal-themselves-1.2832760

    So the bottom line is that the parents gave over $18,000 to this Mercedes-driving con-man to make sure their daughter would die. I hope he gets sued out of every penny he owns and spends the rest of his life sleeping under a bridge (even though that is way too good for someone like him).



    Report abuse

  • 31
    Muljinn says:

    Short answer, political cowardice as a consequence of some of the nastier bits of Canadian history.

    Longer answer, because of how shittily most Aboriginals got treated during the residential schools era, all levels of Canadian government are wary of forcing any issue when Aboriginals are involved. As long as there isn’t a lot of money involved, the government will spinelessly give way before any ridiculous or even outright criminal behaviour by Aboriginals if it might look like “mainstream” Aboriginals are doing it. If there’s even a whiff of potentially legitimate (no matter how shaky the grounds) concern, there’s all manner of excuses made for the bad or brainless behaviour of Aboriginals in Canada.



    Report abuse

  • This is not about the right of parents to choose which medical treatment to use for a child. It is about the right of parents to block their child from getting any treatment. The treatments the Christian pastor parents proposed were bogus. There was no evidence at all they would work any better than water.

    This then is about the right to abuse the child, very similar to the right to beat them. It would be similar to denying a child medical attention for a broken arm.

    I don’t see this as nuanced at all. I think the parents should be prosecuted for neglect and murder.



    Report abuse

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.