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Mont. judge orders hysterectomy, patient appeals

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MISSOULA, MONT. (AP) - The Montana Supreme Court has delayed an order that a cancer patient undergo a hysterectomy to give her time to appeal a finding that she is not mentally competent to make such a decision.

District Judge Karen Townsend issued a March 1 ruling ordering the woman to undergo a radical hysterectomy on March 3 to treat her cervical cancer. The woman is identified in documents by the initials L.K.

L.K.'s appeal says she is a deeply religious woman who wants children and that she objected to the hysterectomy on both grounds, the Missoulian reported Sunday.

After L.K.'s cancer diagnosis, Dr. Valerie Knutsen sent a letter to the Missoula County attorney's office in September with concerns about L.K.'s ability to make medical decisions. A nurse sent similar letters in September and October. A petition to appoint a temporary medical guardian was filed in November. On Feb. 11, the temporary medical guardian signed a consent form for L.K. to have the radical hysterectomy. The surgery was scheduled for March 3.

During a status hearing on March 1, a psychiatrist from the Montana State Hospital testified that the woman was having religious delusions that God had cured her and that those delusions prevented her from making fully informed decisions about her medical care.

A state hospital physician testified that the woman's cancer was in stage 1 and that without treatment, there was an 85 percent chance it could kill her within three years. The physician also testified that it was possible, although not probable, for L.K. to have a child at her age. The court record does not include her age.

L.K. testified that she did understand she had been diagnosed with cancer and did understand the risks of dying without treatment.

Her attorney argued that what the state characterized as delusions are actually L.K.'s deeply held religious beliefs.

A day after Townsend made her ruling, L.K.'s public defender filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court arguing Townsend's ruling violates L.K.'s religious freedom, bodily integrity and constitutional right to dignity. Greg Hood argued his client faced irreversible harm if the surgery went on as scheduled.

"L.K. repeatedly stated that she merely wanted to make the decision for herself and that she may at a later date change her mind and decide to go ahead with the recommended treatment," her appeal stated. "She testified that she wants to have a child and believes God wants her to as well, that she hoped to be able to do so soon, and that her husband was agreeable to being a father."

The Supreme Court stayed Townsend's order and agreed to expedite the appeal.

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Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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