VANCOUVER – Four surviving sextuplets who were taken from their Jehovah’s Witness parents because B.C. doctors believed they would die without blood transfusions were not in imminent danger, an expert has testified.
Dr. Robin Ohls, a neonatologist at the University of New Mexico, says at the time the babies were seized, none of them would have died from low hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen.
The babies were born extremely premature last January and were seized by B.C. child-welfare authorities because their parents refused to allow blood transfusions on religious grounds.
– Four Dangers of the Jehovah’s Witness Organization
Ohls, who was paid to testify on behalf of the parents, told the court Monday that given the hemoglobin levels in the babies, she would not have ordered a blood transfusion for the children.
“None of these babies would die from … low hemoglobin,” she said in B.C. Supreme Court. “Well, I wouldn’t have given a transfusion anyway.”
Lawyers for the B.C. government argued in earlier court applications that saving the lives of the two boys and two girls outweighed the rights of their parents.
The parents’ lawyer, Shane Brady, said they want the court to rule that the seizure of the children was unconstitutional and breached their rights under the Charter.
The babies were returned to their parents’ custody shortly after the transfusions.
Last fall in an unusual ruling, the parents won the right to cross-examine the medical professionals who provided affidavits supporting the blood transfusions.
Lawyers for the B.C. Ministry of Children and Families were also given the right to cross-examine doctors who filed affidavits on behalf of the parents.
On Monday, Ohls spent a lot of time explaining the use of Erythropoietin or EPO, a drug used to stimulate the blood platelets.
The drug could have been used in place of the transfusions, she testified.
All four children had hemoglobin measurements of between 80 and 88 grams per litre.
Ohls said studies showed the children wouldn’t have been considered in danger of low hemoglobin levels until that level dipped into the 70s.
“None of the infants would have been transfused according the University (of New Mexico) guidelines,” she testified.
Chief Justice Donald Brenner asked Ohls to classify what she meant by “medically essential.”
“Does that include, for instance, permanent disability?” he asked.
Ohls responded: “There is no evidence that would say transfusions would prevent impairment.”
Outside the court, Brady said the parents believe these transfusions weren’t medically essential.
“The parents say the seizure was wrong,” Brady said.
The parents cannot be named by court order.
The babies were born at B.C. Children’s hospital on Jan. 7, 2007, almost four months premature.
Two of them died within weeks while four others – two boys and two girls – survived.
The parents did not give doctors consent for the transfusions because their Jehovah’s Witness religious beliefs prohibit such intervention even to save a life.
Brady has argued fundamental justice was denied to his clients and that the seizure of their children violated the Charter of Rights.
The parents should have been given a judicial hearing before any move was made to take the children, he has argued.
But lawyers for the government have said that’s impractical because such hearings involving complex Charter issues take too long, jeopardizing children’s lives when they need immediate medical treatment.
Jan. 21, 2008