Jehovah's Witness loses fight to reject blood transfusion

The Scotsman/May 5, 2005

A 14-Year-Old Canadian Jehovah’s Witness who is suffering from cancer has lost her court fight to refuse a blood transfusion which her faith forbids.

The teenager broke down in tears when the decision was announced by Justice Victor Paisley in a Toronto courtroom, before she was taken away in an ambulance under police guard.

The girl - identified only as Sarah - had reportedly fled across the country with her parents to Ontario after a judge in her home province of British Columbia ruled she could not refuse a blood transfusion if her doctors believed it was medically necessary.

On crutches and looking extremely pale, she began dabbing her eyes as the judge read his decision.

Justice Paisley supported the BC court’s decision to impose an apprehension order, saying the teenager and her family had previous opportunities to present their case.

He said the order - which gives children’s services, a caseworker or social worker permission to remove a child from the care of its parent - was necessary because the girl and her family, who cannot be identified under a publication ban, left the province for Ontario.

"Sarah and her parents had left the province of BC in flight," the judge said. "It is much more urgent now [that the girl should] receive treatment. Any delay risks her life."

The girl’s lawyers had argued that she was not seriously ill and that, even though she was a minor, she still had a right to refuse treatment.

Shane Brady, the family’s lawyer, said they came to Ontario only to receive a second opinion and had hoped to begin alternative therapy in the United States soon.

Mr Brady said: "She was seeking competent medical care. The young woman was devastated. This is a matter of patient choice.

"To be denied that choice and be told, ‘Look, you’ve got to go back to British Columbia to be treated by a doctor that you’ve lost trust in’ - that’s difficult for anybody to stomach."

The teenager - who has bone cancer - has already had surgery on her right leg and undergone chemotherapy to treat the disease.

So far, she has not had any blood transfusions - banned by the Jehovah’s Witness faith - but her doctors have not ruled them out, as the chemotherapy can harm blood cell production.

On 18 March, a Vancouver judge ruled that the girl needed to undergo cancer treatment after a tumour was removed from her leg.

The two-pronged attack involves both chemotherapy and blood transfusions, and the girl’s doctors felt the transfusions would likely be necessary.

British Columbia’s supreme court then ruled on 11 April that the teenager’s constitutional right to choose medical treatment does not override the courts’ authority to protect her life and safety.

But following the ruling and an assessment that revealed her blood counts had dropped to dangerous levels, the teenager and her family went to Toronto for a second opinion.

The apprehension order was issued by the BC court last week, while the girl was seeking treatment at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

Mr Brady argued the apprehension order was not rightly given because it was done in the absence of the parents and the girl - denying them the right to fight it.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe blood is a sacred source of life and not to be misused or tampered with under any circumstances, even life-saving.

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