Seizure of B.C. sextuplets wrong: lawyer

Canadian Press/August 31, 2007

Vancouver -- A lawyer for the Jehovah's Witness parents of premature sextuplets says the babies shouldn't have been seized and given blood transfusions without giving the parents a judicial hearing.

Lawyers representing the parents, the provincial attorney general and the Children's Ministry were in court Thursday arguing over blood transfusions given without the parents' consent.

The sextuplets were born last January to Jehovah's Witnesses who cannot be named under a publication ban. Two of the babies died and the other four were seized.

The parents' lawyer Shane Brady, who is a Jehovah's Witness, told Chief Justice Donald Brenner that such a seizure means there is no fundamental justice available to the parents.

He said the seizures were an unjustifiable breach of the Charter of Rights.

But Kris Chen, acting for the government, said the case is about risk - risk of morbidity or mortality. There was a medical emergency and the government had to act, she said.

While any court decision is moot in this case, the parents want the court to rule that the process followed by the ministry in apprehending the four surviving babies contravened the "principles of fundamental justice."

Brady argued that the infants were "not in immediate danger" and that the burden in this case falls on the ministry to justify the seizures he said violated Section 7 of the Charter.

He argued that the courts are a "secondary" source of consent if parents are unwilling to give the consent and that doctors should only be allowed to rely on their "emergency powers" when it is an emergency.

"There was no medical emergency in this case," said Brady.

Chen suggested that in addition to the legal arguments, an understanding of the medical aspects of the case are also "at play here."

"We have to understand the role of hemoglobin," she argued before telling the court that not enough was known about how low the hemoglobin level can descend before life is at risk.

"Very premature babies often have very low hemoglobin levels," said Chen. "How low hemoglobin can go before death is still not well understood."

Because the scientific knowledge of deficient hemoglobin levels in still not definitive, Chen argued it's up to clinicians involved in specific cases to use their best judgment in calling for medical intervention.

The sextuplets were born at B.C. Children's Hospital on Jan. 7 - almost four months premature.

Two of them died within weeks while four others - two boys and two girls - survived.

Brady also argued that B.C. is among few provinces that haven't enacted legislation to allow parents to go to court before the government can seize their children for objectionable medical treatment.

One controversial doctrine of the Jehovah's Witnesses teaches the Bible prohibits consumption, storage and transfusion of blood, including in cases of emergency.

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