Supreme Court Affirms Cassandra C. Is Not A “Mature Minor”

Only minutes after hearing oral arguments in the appeal of In re: Cassandra C. (see my earlier posts), the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled from the bench, unanimously, that the 17-year-old teen who wanted the legal right to refuse life-saving chemotherapy was not a “mature minor” and, therefore, could not refuse such treatment. 

In her brief oral ruling for the court, which will be followed by a written opinion in the coming weeks, Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers made two key points to a packed courtroom.  First, she explained that Cassandra had a full and fair opportunity in the trial court to present any expert psychiatric or psychological testimony that she wanted to support her claim that, notwithstanding her age, she was sufficiently mature to decide to refuse life-saving medical treatment.  Because she had that opportunity (yet failed to avail herself of it), her claim that she was deprived of her constitutional right to procedural due process was without merit.

Second, the Chief Justice stated that the evidence that was presented to the trial court supported that court’s express factual finding that Cassandra was not a mature minor.  Because appellate courts do not retry the facts, and because the evidence supported that finding, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s ultimate judgment that the Department of Children and Families should continue to serve as the decision-maker regarding Cassandra’s medical treatment.

I will say this: Cassandra’s appellate attorneys, Michael Taylor and James Sexton, did an excellent job under very difficult circumstances.  But as appellate attorneys know all too well, it is well-nigh impossible to win on appeal when the issues you are asking the Supreme Court to decide were not raised in the trial court in the first instance. 

Let me close with one final thought.  The Department of Children and Families gets a great deal of grief, some deserved, mostly undeserved. In this particular case I think DCF did exactly what we want it to do.  It saved a child’s life.

3 Comments on “Supreme Court Affirms Cassandra C. Is Not A “Mature Minor””

  1. Thanks for posting all this. I’ve been asked to appear on Fox CT to talk about this as an expert on the history of adolescent medicine. What do you think of the principle of a mature minor. I agree that the standard was not met in this case but I’d like your opinion on whether this is acceptable in certain cases.

    • Alan Fleishman says:

      I know I am not answering your question, sorry, but rather asking about issues I am interested in. 1. Does she magically mature in 12 months (or however long it takes for her to become 18)? 2. Since the state, Department of Children and Families, is the defacto guardian, do they assume financial responsiblity for the procedures? 3. What happens if the girl and/or family leave Connecticut?

      • No problem. Dan is probably in a better position to answer the legal questions. I think the state is covering her medical care but not sure. It’s unlikely she will magically become more mature when she turns 18 – that’s one of the reasons this case is so tough.

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