VANCOUVER — A 14-year-old Jehovah’s Witness undergoing cancer treatment lost her fight in court yesterday to stop doctors from giving her a blood transfusion against her will.
But she has not lost hope.
“She’s at home, but she is doing quite well today,” her parents’ lawyer, Shane Brady, told reporters moments after hearing the ruling.
The family was “extremely disappointed” with the decision, he added.
However, they remain optimistic that the girl will complete chemotherapy without requiring a transfusion.
Family members and friends attended the hearing yesterday but left afterward without speaking to the news media.
The teenager has had three rounds of chemotherapy, which suppresses the production of red blood cells. She is counting on going through the next cycle of treatment, which begins today, without requiring a transfusion, Mr. Brady said. Her hemoglobin level yesterday was slightly below normal, he added.
“The next two rounds are supposed to be less aggressive. Hopefully, the need for a transfusion will not even become an issue,” Mr. Brady said.
A publication ban imposed by the court prohibits the news media from identifying the teenager, her parents or where they live.
The girl was diagnosed as having a cancerous tumour in her leg in December.
She told doctors she did not object to chemotherapy or even the amputation of her leg, if necessary to save her life.
But she is a devout Jehovah’s Witness and as a matter of conscience does not want a blood transfusion, even if her refusal means she will die.
“She finds a blood transfusion to be a violation of a biblical commandment to abstain from blood,” Mr. Brady told reporters. “She takes that very seriously.”
The court case has “nothing to do with the religion,” he also said. “It is only between the young woman and the state.”
The B.C. Child, Family and Community Service Ministry obtained a court order at an emergency hearing in March to allow doctors to give the girl a transfusion if necessary to save her life.
Madame Justice Mary Boyd of the B.C. Supreme Court rejected an application by the teenager and her parents, who are also Jehovah’s Witnesses, to overturn the lower court’s decision.
The teenager told the court that she would refuse a transfusion. But she also “passionately” expressed her desire not to die, Judge Boyd said.
The judge found that the girl was mature enough to make an informed decision, was aware that she might die and had accepted that the decision was hers alone.
However, the government’s obligation to take measures to preserve the girl’s life supercedes her right to decide whether she should have the transfusion, the judge said.
The judge also decided that the girl’s right to freedom of religion is not an absolute. Although she is not denied the right to hold her beliefs, her beliefs cannot overrule her Charter-guaranteed right to life and security of person, she said.
“Any decision about her treatment now will be a medical decision,” Edward Lyszkiewicz, the lawyer for the B.C. ministry, said after Judge Boyd read out her ruling.
The central issue in the case is whether a person who is considered to be capable can make decisions over what happens to his or her body, Mr. Brady said.
“It’s objectionable to have the state come along and say, ‘You cannot do that. We’re going to overrule your decision,’ ” Mr. Brady said.
Forcing the girl to have a blood transfusion “violates her personal conscience. . . . She has lost control over what happens to her body.”
B.C. and Alberta are the only provinces that do not allow a capable person of any age to make decisions about their own medical treatment, Mr. Brady said. “If the teenager were at the Hospital for Sick Kids [in Toronto,] this would not be an issue,” he said.
The age of maturity is arbitrary, he said. “It makes no allowance for what we all know is a fact of human life, that some people mature at a [younger] age than others.”
The family will consider fighting the ruling in the B.C. Court of Appeal, Mr. Brady said.