20 Nov 2010

Canadian Supreme Court denies appeal in wrongful death suit against Watch Tower Society, but father continues suit against doctors and JW lawyers

The Canadian Press - Google News January 28, 2010

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

By Shannon Montgomery (CP)

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."

This article was found at:



The Calgary Herald - January 28, 2010

Supreme Court declines to hear Calgary father's lawsuit against Jehovah's Witness church

By Calgary Herald

Lawrence Hughes with photographs of his late daughter, Bethany. Photograph by: Mikael Kjellstrom, Calgary Herald

A lawsuit brought by a Calgary father who alleged the Watchtower Society, its church leaders and lawyers contributed to his teenage daughter's death in 2002, will not be heard by the country's highest court.

The Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal to Lawrence Hughes on Thursday and put what is left of the case back in the hands of Court of Queen's Bench Justice Alan MacLeod, the case management judge.

The Supreme Court did not give any reason why it won't hear Hughes' case claiming the Jehovah's Witness church intentionally misled and manipulated his daughter into refusing blood transfusions.

The church believes the Bible says it is wrong to receive blood from someone else.

However, the province made Bethany a ward of the state while she was suffering from leukemia and she was given 80 transfusions against her will while at Alberta Childrn's Hospital in May and June 2002. She died in September 2002.

A relieved David Gnam, lawyer for Bethany, said the ruling "certainly narrows the issues and focus of the lawsuit."

He said only the doctors, plus himself and lawyer Shane Brady, who represents Bethany's mother Arliss Hughes, are included on a limited basis regarding the treatment the girl received before she died at age 17.

"The allegations laid against us were very disturbing, that we contributed to Bethany's death," Gnam said in an interview from his law office in Toronto.

"She was close and dear to us."

Gnam said it is now up to Lawrence Hughes to decide whether or not to continue the watered-down lawsuit and contact the judge about it.
Lawrence Hughes could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
This article was found at:



Father of dead Jehovah's Witness girl can sue church: court

Court okays lawsuit against lawyers for alleged ‘deceit’ in Jehovah's Witness case

Jehovah's Witnesses case heads to B.C. court

Man sees subtle victory in fight against Jehovah's Witnesses after daughter's death

Father fights to hold Jehovah's Witnesses & doctors accountable for daughter's death

Calgary dad's bid to sue Jehovah's Witness church in daughter's death blocked

Jehovah's Witnesses - Blood, money and injustice


  1. Without fanfare, Jehovah’s Witnesses quietly soften position on blood transfusions

    by Tom Blackwell, National Post Staff | Dec 20, 2012

    For years, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ fiercely held belief that blood transfusions are contrary to God’s will led to emotional and very public disputes, hospitals clashing with parents over whether to infuse sick children.

    That long history of messy legal confrontations appears to be vanishing, however, amid changing approaches to the issue on both sides, health-care officials say.

    The church’s ban on accepting blood still stands, but some major pediatric hospitals have begun officially acknowledging the parents’ unorthodox beliefs, while many Jehovah’s Witnesses are signing letters recognizing that doctors may sometimes feel obliged to transfuse, they say.

    As institutions show more respect toward parents’ faith and try harder not to use blood, Witnesses often seem eager to avoid involving child-welfare authorities to facilitate transfusions, and more accepting that Canadian case law is firmly on the doctors’ side, some hospital officials say.

    “They get it that we’re going to transfuse where it’s medically necessary. They’ve lost that battle; they understand that,” said Andrea Frolic, a bioethicist at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ont. “But it’s kind of an affront to their community to involve child-welfare services where there aren’t concerns about neglect, there aren’t concerns about abuse. … Part of the thing was ‘Just go on and do it. Why do we need to involve CAS [Children’s Aid Services]? It makes us feel like bad parents.’ ”

    Ms. Frolic made a presentation on her hospital’s two-year-old policy to the Canadian Society of Bioethics conference earlier this year and said several other children’s hospitals are following similar approaches.

    They include Sick Kids in Toronto and Montreal Children’s Hospital.

    To Calgary’s Lawrence Hughes, an ex-Jehovah’s Witness who fought a long court battle against the blood policy, the apparent changes are a sign that the Witnesses are fed up with the legal tussles, which he believes were unpopular with members and a strain on resources.

    Mr. Hughes broke with the Witnesses, and the rest of his own family, when it tried to prevent his teenage daughter, Bethany, who died in 2002, from receiving a blood transfusion while being treated for cancer.

    The turning point seemed to come in 2007, he argued. A Vancouver hospital had child-welfare officials seize some of the sextuplets born to a Jehovah’s Witness couple that year so doctors could give them blood. The church’s governing Watchtower Bible and Tract Society fought the move in a losing — and highly publicized — court battle.

    “I think that did them in. They couldn’t take it any more,” said Mr. Hughes. “I’ve been contacted by people who used to be in my congregation, and they left because of this [blood ban].”

    Mark Ruge, a spokesman for the Watchtower Society in Georgetown, Ont., said the church, which has branches throughout the world, has not altered its blood ban, though he said he could not account for the actions of individual families.

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  2. David Gnam, one of the Witnesses’ lawyers who has handled many of the transfusion cases, also said there has been no official change in policy, though he is aware that some hospitals have patients sign forms.

    “I’ve been involved in cases representing Jehovah’s Witnesses patients and occasionally it’s been in everybody’s best interests to come to some sort of agreement between the parties,” he said. “But that’s just individual hospitals, doctors and patients.”

    Still, evidence suggests that the number of cases that end up before a judge has dropped significantly. The Canlii website, which catalogues many Canadian court decisions, includes nine separate child blood-transfusion rulings from 2000 to 2007, but just three in the five years since then.

    The Witnesses’ conviction that agreeing to transfusions of whole blood can lead to damnation, officially adopted in 1945, stems from various Bible verses that call on followers to “abstain from” blood.

    Disputes arise when parents refuse transfusions on behalf of children below the age of consent. Hospitals in the past typically approached child-welfare authorities, who asked the courts for an order giving them temporary custody so they can ensure the transfusion is administered.

    Toronto’s Sick Kids now will go to “all lengths” to find alternatives to transfusing blood when Jehovah’s Witnesses voice their opposition, said Rebecca Bruni, a bioethicist at the hospital. It also asks parents to sign a letter of understanding — drafted with the help of one of the church’s hospital liaison committees — that says the institution recognizes their religious objections and will try to avoid transfusions if at all possible. The letter is not a consent form, but adds that where the child is at imminent risk of serious harm or death, medical staff will press ahead with the transfusion.

    “What is beautiful about this is that it’s a symbolic way of embodying respect and dignity and when we do this, we don’t need to call Children’s Aid, which can be messy and ugly.”

    McMaster Children’s Hospital has a similar letter of understanding, recognizing that providing a blood transfusion can be traumatic when “it has potentially eternal consequences,” said Ms. Frolic.

    McGill Children’s Hospital in Montreal has had such a protocol for about a decade, and found that it brought about a “real, significant drop” in conflicts, said Lori Seller, a clinical ethicist at the facility.

    All the ethicists stress, as well, that some Jehovah’s Witnesses do not agree with the blood ban, but are anxious that their green light to transfusion be kept confidential.

    “Some families are really more concerned about other Jehovah’s Witnesses finding out they consented to the blood transfusion,” said Ms. Seller.