McMaster Indigenous Studies: Health care policies unable to accommodate indigenous well-being

McMaster University’s Indigenous Studies faculty, staff and students released a statement this week in honour of the life of Makayla Sault.

The statement says: “We were in awe of a young girl who seemed so much more courageous, wiser, and stronger than all of us. We, like everyone else, were made optimistic of her continued improvement and now share everyone’s sense of grief over her loss.”

Representatives from McMaster Indigenous Studies were invited by the Sault family to sit as experts to try and compel doctors to understand the indigenous perspective on the family’s reasoning behind supporting Makayla’s decision to end chemotherapy.

In the statement from McMaster Indigenous Studies they write about those meetings saying, “Attending the mediation meetings at the request of the Sault family it was abundantly clear the medical team had no awareness of indigenous history or culture.”

Intense meetings between oncologists, the Sault family and members of the indigenous community ran for a number of weeks before the Children’s Aid Society was notified that Makayla decided to no longer pursue chemotherapy.

The decision by McMaster to pursue the Children’s Aid Society’s help in bringing Makayla back to chemotherapy even after the child refused to continue, sparked an emotional response from First Nations people across Canada and the United States.

The statement quoted a recent editorial by Lisa Richardson and Matthew Stanbrook in the Canadian Medical Association Journal article which said “For the state to remove a child from her parents and enforce medical treatment would pose serious, possibly lifelong, repercussions for any family, but such action holds a unique horror for Aboriginal people given the legacy of residential school.”

The statement by McMaster Indigenous Studies faculty also said the issue is deeper than an indigenous medicine versus pharmaceutical approach to treating disease.

“At the root of this case then, is the inability of health policy and decision makers, as well as health care providers trained in the biomedical health care approach, to acknowledge and accommodate indigenous approaches to healing and wellness,”

The statement followed up with a challenge to all those involved in the medical profession. “We therefore urge all stakeholders to collaborate with indigenous health leaders, affected community members, and academics in the development of policies and protocols that will guide both sides to a therapeutic care plan that truly facilities a culturally safe, person centred approach. Such a collaboration would reflect an approach that is in keeping with principles of health equity, human rights and most importantly, indigenous self-determining aspirations of health and well-being.”

Read the statement in it’s entirety here.

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