Winnipeg girl in court to fight blood transfusions

A 15-year-old Winnipeg girl returned to a Manitoba courtroom Thursday to fight a court order that allowed doctors to give her blood transfusions against her wishes.

A 15-year-old Winnipeg girl returned to a Manitoba courtroom Thursday to fighta court order thatallowed doctors to give her blood transfusions against her wishes.

The main issue is whether theyoung Jehovah's Witness should be considered a "mature minor" or be put under the wing of Child and Family Services and be forced to have the treatment when doctors deem it necessary.

The case will resume on Friday.

In April, the girl, who was then 14, went to a Winnipeg hospital with a flare-up ofCrohn's disease.She and her parents refused to allow a blood transfusion.

Most Jehovah's Witnessesinterpret literally a passage in the Bible thatforbids them from ingesting blood — which includesreceiving blood transfusions — although some blood derivatives are allowed.

Court order allowed treatment

The province's Child and Family Services Departmentconvinced theCourt of Queen's Benchto issue anorder allowing doctors to give blood transfusions or blood products "as they deem medically necessary."

Whether the girl received the blood transfusions or not at that point was never made public. Her name cannot be published because the court case is a Child and Family Services matter.

Crohn's disease isa chronic illness that affects the gastrointestinal tract from mouth to bowel. It has no known cure, but its symptoms can be relieved by drugs or surgery.

Manitoba child welfare authorities said the treatment is necessary to help with the girl's Crohn's disease.

"Well certainly, a family's beliefs about a particular situation are always considered and respected, but the ultimate decision really does rest with a judge," Linda Burnside, a spokeswoman for the province's child protection branch, said Wednesday.

"The judge would also want to take into consideration a family's position on a particular matter, and the family has that legal right to be present in court to present their side, but ultimately it's a judge who makes the final decision."

Constitutional rights to be argued

Watchtower Bible and Tract Society lawyer Shane Brady, who is representing the girl in court, said his main issue is not freedom of religion, but the simple question of whether capable people, regardless of age, can make their own medical decisions without the government's intervention.

Brady told CBC News on Wednesday he is fighting the court order on the basis that it violates the girl's constitutional rights and the province's own laws.

Othercases in Canada have also pitted young, seriously ill Jehovah's Witnesses against provincial governments.

A Calgary father tried to suehis former wife and the Watchtower Society of Canada after his 17-year-old daughter Bethany died of leukemia in 2002. Lawrence Hughes blamed the church forinfluencingBethany to refuse blood transfusions, although she eventually received them when she wasmade a wardof the province.

In August 2005, a B.C. Jehovah's Witness teen, identified only as Sarah, was successfully treated for her osteogenic sarcoma at a New York hospital that respected her wish to avoid blood transfusions. She was able to go to the New York hospital after the teenager and her parents reached an agreement with the B.C. government, and after she had lost two previous court battles to refuse the blood transfusions.

No such case has reached the Supreme Court of Canada to date, since the provincial court decisions are usually made in medical emergencies and the results vary from province to province. The federal high court refused to hear Bethany Hughes's appeal several months before she died, but it gave no reason for its decision.