Jehovah's Witness, 14, loses fight to refuse transfusions

Cancer sufferer cannot turn down blood, judge rules

The Province, Vancouver/April 12, 2005
By Damian Inwood with Jack Keating

A 14-year-old Okanagan member of the Jehovah's Witness church has lost a bitter court battle against receiving blood transfusions.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Mary Boyd ruled yesterday that a provincial court judge had the power to authorize emergency transfusions against the girl's will.

Her lawyer, Shane Brady, said the girl's family is "disappointed" and is considering taking the case to the B.C. Court of Appeal.

"The family is disappointed because their position has been, all along, that once the court has found that she is as capable as you and I, that young woman should make the decision," said Brady.

The girl's name and her hometown can't be revealed, due to a publication ban. She was not in court yesterday.

Brady said the girl believed transfusions were a "violation of the biblical command to abstain from blood. The decision is based on her religious conscience."

The girl was diagnosed in December with a cancerous tumour on her right leg. The tumour was removed and she began chemotherapy.

After the girl and her family refused consent for blood transfusions, the case was forwarded to B.C.'s director of Child, Family and Community Service.

In court documents, the girl described how a transfusion would contravene her religious beliefs.

"It's no different than somebody getting sexually assaulted or raped or robbed or something," she said. "You'd feel violated because it's not anybody else's property, it's you."

Lawyers for the girl fought the case on the grounds the girl was not represented by legal counsel and that she was a "mature minor," capable of deciding her own treatment. They also said the girl's Charter rights were infringed by provincial law and she had suffered age discrimination.

Boyd said yesterday that by March 15, the girl's hemoglobin dropped to "well below" levels where a transfusion is normally given.

Boyd found that Provincial Court Judge Paul Meyers was "considered, thoughtful and sensitive" in ensuring the child had a fair hearing on March 18.

Boyd said doctors needed the "safety net" of having a transfusion available to continue with a more invasive cycle of chemo that the girl is due to start tomorrow. Meyers acted properly and "did everything possible to ensure the utmost fairness," said Boyd. That included talking to the girl by phone in her hospital bed.

Boyd said provincial laws allow courts to protect the rights of children in need of medical treatment. "All children are entitled to be protected from abuse and harm . . . the ultimate threat of harm would be death," she added.

Boyd said that while the girl was free to choose and practise her religion, that right was "not absolute" and orders could be made in a child's best interests.

"Ultimately, her religious beliefs don't override her right to life and health," Boyd said.

Raymond Busby, an elder in Burnaby's Capital Hill Jehovah's Witnesses congregation, said religious beliefs come first.

"The Bible has clear standards that we are not to take blood as Christians," he said.

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