BRITISH COLUMBIA – Canada’s first sextuplets were born at B.C. Women and Children’s Hospital a year ago today, launching a continuing debate that pits religious beliefs against the government’s legal responsibility to protect children.
The premature babies, two of whom died shortly after birth, were born to a Jehovah’s Witness family whose identity was protected by a court-imposed ban on publicity.
Although doctors wanted to give blood transfusions to the four surviving babies, the family protested because the medical procedure contravenes their religious beliefs that Christians must “abstain from blood.”
The four surviving infants were apprehended by the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development in order for the transfusions to be performed. The two boys and two girls were given one blood transfusion each.
The parents continue to protest the transfusions and apprehensions in B.C. Supreme Court, arguing that the ministry acted with undue haste when it apprehended the babies, denying them their charter rights to a judicial review before a transfusion took place, according to media reports.
Ontario lawyer Shane Brady, who represents the family, has called the ministry’s actions “a gross violation” of the parents’ constitutional rights.
“In media we’ve seen statements that not everyone agrees with these parents’ religious views. But that’s not what this case is about. Any parent would be upset to learn that the government could apprehend their child and interfere with the parent relationship in important matters without having to justify it in advance,” Brady said previously.
This wasn’t the first high-profile case of a Jehovah’s Witness refusing medical treatment. In 2001, 16-year-old Bethany Hughes of Calgary made headlines nationwide after refusing to undergo blood transfusions because of her strong Jehovah’s Witness faith. Hughes died in September 2002, of leukemia after an unsuccessful court battle to refuse 38 transfusions.
In 2005, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled against the right of a 14-year-old Jehovah’s Witness from Vernon to refuse lifesaving blood transfusions. The girl was suffering from a potentially fatal form of bone cancer.
In her ruling, Justice Mary Boyd said the rights of a “mature minor” to make her own medical choices do not supersede the authority of the courts in British Columbia to protect her life and safety.