An extraordinary case in Montana has provoked a debate on the rights of the legal system to enforce medical treatment on an unwilling adult.
A Missoula woman, identified as L.K., was ordered by a trial-court judge to go through a radical hysterectomy to treat her cervical cancer. The matter had reached the courts as her doctor had judged her unfit to take any medical decisions. After his letter to the Missoula County attorney's office, a petition to appoint a temporary medical guardian was granted and the guardian signed a consent form for the patient to have the hysterectomy.
At the court hearings, a psychiatrist from the Montana State Hospital reported that the woman was having religious delusions and that these prevented her from making fully informed decisions about her medical care.
A state hospital physician stated that the woman's cancer, if not treated, could kill her within three years.
When L.K. took the stand she claimed that she did understand she had been diagnosed with cancer and did understand the risks of dying without treatment.
Her attorney, Greg Hood, argued that the 'delusions' were actually L.K.'s religious beliefs. An emergency petition has reached the Supreme Court declaring that the lower court's ruling has gone against her religious freedom, bodily integrity and constitutional right to dignity.
Although it has been established that people in their senses have the right to refuse medical treatment for various reasons, even when life is at stake, this case has raised the question whether a mistaken belief which is not the same as a religious obligation, can be so deluded so as to deem the person unfit to make a sane decision.
The Supreme Court has given time for the woman to file an appeal.