Top court denies appeal in Calgary father's suit over Jehovah's daughter's death

CALGARY - The Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the grieving father of a Jehovah's Witness girl who fought blood transfusions on religious grounds.
Published : January 29, 2010

CALGARY - The Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the grieving father of a Jehovah's Witness girl who fought blood transfusions on religious grounds.

Still, Lawrence Hughes says he'll pursue every option left open to him to continue legal action on behalf of his teenage daughter, Bethany, who died eight years ago.

Hughes had alleged that the Watch Tower Society and its lawyers and religious leaders deliberately misled his daughter about medical treatment by urging her to refuse transfusions to treat her leukemia.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe it is wrong to accept transfusions because certain passages in the Bible forbid the ingestion of blood.

In its decision Thursday, the high court denied Hughes leave to appeal a lower court's decision that dismissed the suit against the society and also most of the allegations against its lawyers. As is its practice, the court did not give reasons for its decision.

Bethany's case made headlines in 2002 after she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a rare and aggressive form of blood cancer.

The battle over her treatment renewed public debate over how to determine when a child should be able to make decisions about medical care. Hughes and his now former wife, Arliss, disagreed on Bethany's treatment. The church shunned Hughes for rejecting its teachings.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows people over 18 to decide for themselves, but some medical ethicists say that mature children should be given that same right unless their competence has been compromised. Bethany was 16 when the controversy over her case began.

An Alberta court ruled she was pressured by her religion and didn't have a free, informed will.

The province won temporary custody of Bethany. She was given 38 transfusions that she fiercely resisted from her bed at the Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary, even attempting to tear the tubes from her arms.

She later died in Edmonton after being released from the province's care when the treatments failed. She sought alternative therapies at the Cross Cancer Clinic before she died.

Hughes commenced a wrongful death suit in 2004 after a court approved him as administrator of his daughter's estate. The Watch Tower Society and its lawyers sought to have the action dismissed and both a Queen's Bench judge and the Alberta Court of Appeal agreed many parts of it couldn't go ahead.

Hughes vowed Thursday to continue legal action against the doctors who treated Bethany at the Edmonton clinic and the role of Watch Tower Society lawyers David Gnam and Shane Brady in setting up that treatment.

Hughes said he still believes that Bethany was not properly counselled on her options and that she could be alive if she had been given the right care.

"I just think I have a moral responsibility to do something. I just can't sit here and not do anything."

Gnam said the Supreme Court ruling is "a great relief" in that it confirmed vast portions of the original lawsuit could not continue.

"We especially appreciate the fact that the Supreme Court took only three weeks to dismiss it from the time it was first referred to a panel to the decision," he said.

Gnam noted that the high court ordered Hughes to pay legal costs for both sides and he suggested that "indicates what they thought of the lawsuit."

Gnam said the parts of the lawsuit that were struck down centred on whether Bethany should have received the blood transfusions.

"In the end she did get the blood transfusions, against her wishes, and they weren't effective," he said.

"So Mr. Hughes's complaint was that we somehow caused her wrongful death because we interfered with the blood transfusions, but there was no proof of that. Obviously, she got the blood transfusions."

Hughes argued that the issue is one that still deserves time before the court.

"If one person dies needlessly, it's one too many."

 
 
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