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Court Revives Case Against Jehovah’s Witnesses

By Ron Csillag
TORONTO (RNS) A Canadian court has ruled that the father of a teenaged Jehovah’s Witness who died five years ago can proceed with legal action against the church.
In its ruling on Aug. 31, the Alberta Court of Appeal revived large portions of a $925,000 lawsuit filed by Lawrence Hughes of Calgary, who accuses Jehovah’s Witness members of contributing to the death of his 17-year-old daughter, Bethany.
The lawsuit, which a lower court dismissed as an attack on the Witnesses’ religious beliefs, alleges that lawyers for the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Canada counseled Bethany Hughes to refuse transfusions necessary to treat her leukemia.
The case made headlines and generated controversy over whether someone Bethany’s age could make informed decisions. Canada’s Charter of Rights allows those 18 and older to decide their own medical treatments, but ethicists argued that mature children should be allowed to decide unless their competence has been compromised.
Eventually, the Alberta government won temporary custody of Bethany and she was forcibly given 38 transfusions. She died Sept. 5, 2002, two months after doctors stopped the transfusions, which were determined to be ineffective.
Lawrence Hughes commenced his action two years ago after a court approved him as administrator of Bethany’s estate. But last year, a lower court ruled that his allegations were simply an attack on the church’s beliefs, and that litigation couldn’t proceed on the charge that a religious belief is wrong.
However, the appeals court noted the case will not put on trial the belief of Jehovah’s Witnesses that blood transfusions are forbidden by the Bible.
“The pleadings will not require any examination of the `truth’ of the (church’s) beliefs about blood transfusions,” the judges said.
Lawrence Hughes was shunned from the church after he rejected its teachings about blood transfusions and allowed Bethany to undergo the procedure.

  • pagansister

    Bethany was not 18, therefore, with the laws in Canada, she wasn’t an “adult” and legally she couldn’t make the decision about a blood transfusion. That should become a decision for her parents, not lawyers for the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Canada. JW’s and their lawyers aren’t doctors. Yes, blood transfusions are forbidden by JW’s, but her father apparently got smart and approved when it came to the life of his child. Thus JW’s booted his butt out of the church. No forgivness there…and they are Christian? He’s not allowed to make a mistake(in their eyes) and try to save his child’s life? Guess not.
    Did wonder why the Alberta government took temporary custody of her and had the transfusions done, instead of her father.

  • pagansister

    Meant to add, it is unfortunate that Bethany didn’t live even with the transfusions. She died way too soon.

  • nnmns

    She did die way too soon and in some sense the church is guilty. But I wonder why, with her father wanting the transfusions, they were not forcibly administered. Ugly scene; maybe doctors don’t do that, I don’t know.
    But it is reprehensible to counsel a youth to ignore medical advice so I hope they get hit hard. And their beliefs are clearly wrong.

  • pagansister

    “But it is reprehensible to counsel a youth to ignore medical advice so I hope they get hit hard. And their beliefs are clearly wrong.
    Absolutely right!

  • Henrietta22

    This is very sad for this father who is left blaming himself for the late start in starting blood transfusions for his daughters leukemia. I’ve mentioned this before, but our daughter was sixteen when leukemia struck her. If their blood counts drop dangerously low while taking Chemo a blood transfusion is STAT necessary! That means immediately, not weeks of debate between her need. The timing for treatment is everything, meaning the difference of increasing their lives or as I understand there are some types of leukemia that are curable now. People in religions who would deny help from the doctors or science in order to help their children should not be allowed. Adults can do as they please if they are so into their extreme beliefs, but the children shouldn’t have to pay for their parents extremism with their lives. The religions that encourage parents to beat the “Devil” out of their children should be held responsible and the religion that encourages this should be cited by the law.

  • Windsors Child

    I do not agree with the position on blood transfusions held by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, since I find no evidence in Scripture to support such a view. When our first child was born, my wife had to have a blood transfusion, and my faith in Christ did not cause me to hesitate for a moment to give my approval. However, government must be cautious in restricting the free exercise of religion, even in life and death issues. Since the 38 “forcibly-given” transfusions were ineffective, I think it is pointless to persue this case any further.
    Also, I am not aware of any religion that “encourages parents to beat the Devil out of their children.” Certainly that is not a teaching of any Christian faith with which I am familiar.

  • Henrietta22

    If you read newspapers, watch TV, you will see cases where people beat their children because they are ‘demon ridden’. Just last month a RC couple did this. Their Priest said he had no knowlege of this, and I believe him, but they were his Parishioners, and follow-up should be done to see why this couple attacked their children in this manner. It’s in the courts, watch your news.
    I agree religion should be practised without government control, unless their doctrines contribute to the abuse or death of innocent children.

  • Tia

    What I do not get ,is a point that was made earlier, if the father wanted the transfusions why they were not given right away. She was not of age, by law, to make the choice. And why would someone want to believe that getting a life saving procedure is wrong is against me. It is one thing for an adult to make the choice however a child does not truly have the knowledge and in some cases maturity to make the knowledgable choice.
    As for the “beating the devil out” I have heard of people truly thinking that they can. And yes I think it is WRONG! I know of no place that it can be given a Biblical reference saying it is alright.

  • Joey

    What the article fails to mention is, how did the JW’s allegedy influence Bethany’s decision? I’m not prepared to comment on whether or not they were culpable for her death, as we don’t know if they pressured and misled her or if she merely heard a sermon at some point on the issue and accepted it as her own.
    In general, I do not think that she should have had the right to make this decision herself; apparently Canadian law differs from (my understanding of) American law, in giving more rights to minors. I also believe (a bit hesitantly) that the government should be able to force minors on this issue, but not adults—the right to practice one’s beliefs, even to the point of martyrdom, should be preserved for those who are wise enough to understand the full consequences of their decision.
    God bless.

  • Donny

    The grief of this father may indeed help all of Canada. This is the country where the age of consent is far lower than 17.

  • Whitelady849

    Having been a Jehovah’s Witness for over 22 years, I understand both the father’s position, the medical community and the religion. However, I,also don’t agree with blood tranfusions being given to anyone. Working in insurance claims, I have seen the results of bad blood transfusions killing people. People who didn’t have Hepatitis B, HIV, AIDS, E-Coli received these diseases AFTER the blood transfusions. The medical community knows this and many doctors are reluctant to give transfusions unless the blood has been properly tested. Some blood banks have reputations and are not properly regulated. Blood from these places finds its way into reputable hospitals and literally kills people. I believe that the father should be suing the blood bank, the hospital and the hemotologists who should have tested the blood before the transfusions, not the religion.

  • jestrfyl

    I am sad for the father, for the death of his daughter, his loss of support from his church, and for his frustration with a system that has only financial restitution as its only means for justice.
    My question is where is the girl’s mother in this story? Assuming she is alive and part of her life, she, too would have something to say.
    I am not about to propose that we dictate belief. But there is a time when medical science can accomplish great things. There is a need for some balance here. None is forthcoming, however, so this will forever be an impass.
    Money will neither return his daughter nor ease is pain. Is there nothing that can be done that will actually help? We have simply surrendered our sense of morality and ethics to a market based mentality. We need to be more creative in our legal system.

  • Henrietta22

    The one possible good thing that may come from Churches being sued as an influence in the case of refusing Medical help where it is indicated is it may encourage extreme belief churches to study into the truths of what Medical Science can do, and to stop passing on horror stories of such things as blood transfusions, in order to make ill people afraid to trust their Doctors opinions or prescription. Churches and Businesses do not like to be hit in their “purses”. Somehow it changes the way they look at solving their problems.

  • pagansister

    You expressed your view that you agree with your religion’s stance on blood transfusions. Personnally I could never let my own child die for lack of needed blood. How can a woman give birth, nurture, love, protect and do all the things good mother’s do and then say NO to a life saving procedure? I just do not understand! I have had 2 children, who are now adults, and I would have never let them die for lack of blood! No god would be telling me what to do when it comes to my child’s life.
    You mentioned all the problems with blood transfusions….but you failed to mention all the people who have been saved with blood transfusions. Of course the doctors and hospitals etc.have to be careful.
    The father suing the blood bank? I get the impression his child might have died because of the DELAY in getting the transfusions, and had nothing to do with the blood bank! Bethany might have had a better chance at life if the church hadn’t told her it was wrong.
    Where in your bible does it say that blood is not to be infused?
    The article said that 18 is the age of consent in Canada. She was 17.

  • Suzy

    I feel it’s a senseless tragedy for a child to die because of an unfounded religious belief! My husband was raised as Jehovah’s Witness (his parents are still part of this religion) and I agreed after we were married 5 years ago to give this religion a chance…in my opinion they make stuff up to suit their own needs and to control people. Thankfully my husband has agreed to no longer follow this belief system. I just cannot understand how it’s wrong to receive blood if it’s going to save a life. I agree with the person who posted on this that JW’s easily dismiss and abandon those who wish to challenge any belief/”truth” that they cram down peoples throats. They even discourage any and all contact with people who do not follow that religion. How can they call themselves Christians yet be so cold and callous when it comes to human life?! That girl was just a child, only 17, much too young to die especially when her death was due to such a ludicrous religious idea….I say “idea” because the scripture they use to support this silly “no-blood” belief is unfounded, it is found in the Old Testament and obviously medical technology has advanced so much since then that this scripture doesn’t even make sense in this day and age. I truly hope there will be justice for this poor girl, and that in the future there will be NO MORE DEATHS due to some ridiculous propaganda that these JW’s enforce so callously.

  • whitelady849

    What I SAID was that I don’t agree with ANYONE being given blood transfusions because of the bad results I have seen working in insurance claims.Hundreds of thousands of people die yearly due to bad blood being improperly tranfused, much more so than the people who lived. The simple fact that poor girl had to have 38 separate transfusions says a lot about the blood that went into her body. Surely the doctors, hemotologists..somebody should have known the blood wasn’t working by the 5th transfusion. There were other methods they could have used but obviously didn’t for whatever reasons we may never know. This is why we in this country should not rely on the doctor’s knowledge alone. We should be highly informed in these matters especially if you have children. (By the way, I have 2 and I KNOW what do, say and ask for!)Proper health care is the patient’s responsibility and if you think it isn’t, don’t get sick and have to go to the hospital. Insurance companies consistently believe YOU are responsible for your health and health care which is why they cancel insurers who appear to have been neglient. As a parent, I counsel all parents, know your child and be prepared for anything. Knowledge is power and the key to power!

  • pagansister

    All you did was say you are still following your JW faith of no blood transfusions. You see the bad results due to your job, apparently, and also your belief system. (where is it said in the bible, that you can’t transfer blood?). You don’t see the successes. How many “hundreds of thousands” are still alive and now well because of this procedure? Don’t have facts on that, I’m sure. You have your faith and job to turn you off a life saving procedure.
    I agree, the patient, if competent to make those decisions, is responsible for their health care, but I’d not refuse my child, family member or myself a chance to stay alive, if a blood transfusion was the only choice.

  • Pallax

    Blood why so valuable?
    Direct source of the seriousness of blood transfusions, and why Jehovah’s Witnesses take the stand they do. Bible based, and indirectly turns out, it is more medically sound of a decision to refrain from them. This story of Bethany is tragic and much pain behind it, no doubt about it… but what can we learn from it? Be curious find out, and who won’t agree that Bethany will live a beautiful life in the future?

  • pagansister

    Not likely to change my mind…if anyone in my family is sure to die without a blood transfusion….they’d take their chances as would I. No one is saying that caution shouldn’t be taken in the sources of the blood, but so far no one has mentioned the folks who have survived very well with a transfusion. If alternatives work, fine, but as an only choice, stick that needle in, as I like living.
    “…….who won’t agree that Bethany will live a beautiful life in the future?” I don’t agree, as I figure this is it, when you’re gone you live in the memories of those left behind, not in a mythical afterlife.

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