Parental refusal of treatment for leukaemia – When courts decide


Olivia is a 14-year-old girl from rural NSW who was diagnosed with Pre B Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).  The treatment is long and arduous, but if treated immediately has a 90 percent survival rate. Without treatment she will die within four weeks. Olivia has other conditions including epileptic encephalopathy (DEE), a severe intellectual disability, global developmental delay, communication difficulties, drug-resistant seizures and behavioural difficulties. The cancer therapy would require Olivia to have over 50 general anaesthetics as she won’t accept treatment without being restrained.

Olivia’s mother does not want the cancer treated. She prefers that her daughter receive palliative care and be allowed to die at home, avoiding the pain and suffering of chemotherapy. Unable to reach consensus, the hospital brought the case to the NSW Supreme Court last month seeking orders to authorise treatment.

The Children’s Bioethics Centre (CBC) invite you to join them for a thought-provoking panel ethical discussion. The session will be facilitated by Academic Director of the CBC, Professor Lynn Gillam, who will be joined by Clinical Ethicist Sharon Feldman, and RCH clinicians Associate Professor Maria McCarthy, Dr Monica Cooper and Dr Diane Hanna. We will work through some of the ethical issues surrounding this case, and invite comments from the audience.



Professor Lynn Gillam is a clinical ethicist at the Children’s Bioethics Centre, RCH and Professor of Health Ethics in the Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne.

Sharon Feldman is a clinical ethicist at the Children’s Bioethics Centre, as well as at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Austin Health. Previously, Sharon worked as a healthcare lawyer, before completing a master’s degree in bioethics at Columbia University and a two-year clinical ethics fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic. She is also pursuing a PhD on the practice of clinical ethics.

Associate Professor Maria McCarthy is a Senior Mental Health Clinician in the RCH Children’s Cancer Centre and a Principal Research Fellow with the MCRI.

Dr Monica Cooper is a Consultant General Paediatrician working in the Department of Neurodevelopment and Disability and for the Complex Care Service at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. Monica works with medically fragile children and with children who have physical and intellectual disabilities.

Dr Dianne Hanna is a paediatric oncologist, haematopoietic stem cell transplant physician and post-doctoral researcher. She is the deputy director of the clinical trials unit within the Children’s Cancer Centre (CCC), chair of the Paediatric Integrated Cancer Service (PICS) statewide leukaemia MDMs and member of the Australia and New Zealand Children’s Oncology Group (ANZCHOG) Leukaemia/Lymphoma Committee.


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