STUDENT VOICES | CHYNN PRIZE FIRST-PLACE WINNER
By Madeleine Cardona
I will never forget the day my mother got diagnosed. I could swear that just yesterday I was thirteen years old waiting anxiously to be called in from the waiting room of some fancy New York State doctor’s office. I was young, but I had some idea of what was going on. I knew my parents and I were there because they were going through a divorce and fighting for custody of me. What I did not know was that we were about to endure a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation and that the results were going to change my life forever.
“Madeleine, your mom is very sick,” the psychiatrist attempted to explain to me. I did not understand. I did not know a sick person could look perfectly healthy. “It’s not a physical sickness, it’s in her head. She has a mental disorder called Paranoid Schizophrenia.” She went on using big words to explain how my mother’s brain “wasn’t like other people’s brains.” I sat there listening closely, hanging on every word the woman was saying to me. “She can’t help the choices that she makes, it’s not her fault that she is the way that she is. She needs help.” Every day since that day in the doctor’s office, that remark replays in my head over and over. “She can’t help the choices she makes.”
That is what gave me the most trouble. I sat around for years and years watching the choices that my mother was making, unable to intervene. If she cannot help the choices she makes, why could my dad or my mother’s other family not make the choices for her? Why could nobody make her take medication? I eventually learned that it was because my mother was sick, but “not sick enough.” The court ruled in favor of autonomy and said that my mother still had the right to make her own medical decisions. According to them she was functional and was not posing an immediate danger to herself or others. I understand autonomy. Autonomy is defined as “a principle in which a person should respect the rights of other individuals to freely determine their own choices and decisions” (Jonas). I understand how important free will and the ability to make choices about your own body are. It is hard for me, however, to understand how you can continue to honor a person’s right to make their own decisions, when every decision they make is only hurting them. It is hard to sit there, as a loved one, and not want to just make them take the medication they need to get better, or force them participate in that research study that just might help.