Judge rejects father's lawsuit in death of Jehovah's Witness teen
A Calgary judge has dismissed most of a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the father of a teenage Jehovah's Witness who refused her blood transfusions.
Lawrence Hughes alleged that the Watchtower Society of Canada (a legal entity for the church), its lawyers, religious leaders and doctors deliberately misinformed his daughter Bethany about her medical treatment in 2002, and counselled her to refuse transfusions for leukemia.
Most Jehovah's Witnesses interpret literally a passage in the Bible that forbids them from ingesting blood — which includes receiving blood transfusions — as blood is considered a sacred source of life. In some cases, blood derivatives are allowed.
An Alberta court forced Bethany, 17, to get the transfusions in 2002, ruling she was pressured by her religion and didn't make a free, informed opinion.
The Alberta government won temporary custody of Bethany and she was given 38 transfusions, although she tried to pull the medical tubes from her arms while she was bedridden at Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary.
She died in September of that year.
Queen's Bench Justice Alan Macleod dismissed most of the lawsuit Friday, including all parts against the Watchtower Society of Canada, saying the claims were bound to fail.
A claim against doctors at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton, who provided an experimental treatment to Bethany, remains because they didn't request a dismissal.
Macleod urged Hughes to get a lawyer and to carefully consider his options if he is to continue with that part of the lawsuit.
"It is a sad day for justice, it is a sad day for Jehovah's Witness children, it is a sad day for mankind," Hughes told reporters immediately after the ruling. "This is a classic example of a judge protecting doctors and protecting lawyers."
Mother welcomes judge's decision
Hughes was shunned by the church after he rejected its teachings about blood transfusions and agreed that Bethany should undergo transfusions along with chemotherapy. He and his wife Arliss are now divorced.
Hughes said he intends to appeal the ruling but admitted he may not be able to afford a lawyer.
Arliss Hughes, Bethany's mother, released a statement following Friday's ruling.
"Throughout my daughter's six-month battle with leukemia in 2002, I supported her own medical treatment choices as an intelligent, mature 16-year-old," it says.
"Justice Macleod's ruling dismissing Lawrence Hughes's hurtful allegations is most appreciated.
"I deeply miss Bethany's smile, sense of humour and joy in life. She is sadly missed by me, her sisters and all who knew her."