Calgary dad's bid to sue church blocked

Canwest News Service, Canada/June 20, 2008

Calgary - A Calgary man has suffered a major legal setback in his bid to sue the Jehovah's Witness church and its lawyers over the death of his daughter, who fought against blood transfusions to treat her leukemia.

On Friday, Alberta Court of Queen's Bench Justice Alan Macleod dismissed most of the claims in Lawrence Hughes' wrongful death lawsuit, which alleged the defendants gave his teenage daughter, Bethany Hughes, misinformation about her medical treatment.

The judge ruled the majority of Hughes' case, including allegations against lawyers Shane Brady and David Gnam and the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Canada, had little chance of success.

"I hope Mr. Hughes will reflect carefully on this whole thing and if he does (proceed with the case), I hope he gets a lawyer," the judge said.

Hughes, who represented himself in the proceedings, vowed to continue his legal fight. He added he is looking for a lawyer willing to take on the case.

"I'll definitely appeal," said Hughes, standing outside of court in Calgary.

"I believe Bethany didn't stand a chance. She was under tremendous pressure (not to take blood transfusions)."

Bethany died of acute myeloid leukemia in September 2002 - despite 80 blood transfusions and other treatments for her cancer.

A court order mandated the transfusions after she refused them because they were contrary to her Jehovah's Witness faith.

Bethany - who used the name Mia in the media to protect her identity - fought the protection order, claiming it was her right as a mature person to make her own medical decisions.

Bethany even tried to pull the medical tubes from her arms while bedridden at Alberta Children's Hospital.

Doctors who first determined she would die without transfusions eventually decided that she was too sick to face further chemotherapy sessions and gave up their custody of Bethany.

Hughes later launched a lawsuit against the Watch Tower society and Bethany's lawyers as well as some of the physicians involved with her care.

Among the allegations in the lawsuit, Hughes claimed the lawyers, whose major client is the Watch Tower society, were in a conflict of interest and misrepresented information about treatments for her disease.

Gnam said he was pleased the claim against him was dismissed and said he will seek costs in the case.

Arliss Hughes, Bethany's mother, released a statement Friday saying the ruling is "most appreciated."

Bethany's illness did more than claim her life - it also tore her family apart and bankrupted her father.

All members of the family had been Jehovah's Witnesses for nearly 20 years and were opposed to receiving blood products when Bethany was diagnosed with leukemia in February 2002.

But Lawrence Hughes changed his mind after discussions with doctors and fought to have his daughter receive what he believed was the best medical care.

"There is no question that Bethany's illness led Mr. Hughes to seriously question and ultimately reject the teaching of his and his family's religion, and that he paid a high price for that moral and religious decision, including the shunning by the Jehovah Witness congregation and alienation from his wife and children," Court of Queen's Bench Justice Rosemary Nation wrote in her 2003 divorce settlement decision.

"You'd think the religious belief would provide comfort to a husband and wife whose child was stricken with a life-threatening illness and guide the family throughout the crisis," said Calgary lawyer Vaughn Marshall, who assisted Lawrence Hughes in the divorce proceedings.

"But, in this case, it not only failed to do that, it destroyed the family. First, Lawrence Hughes lost his daughter, then his family."

Lawrence Hughes testified during the trial he incurred more than $200,000 in legal fees and paid $20,000 of it out of his own pocket, pushing him into bankruptcy.

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