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Top court may rule on transfusions

The Edmonton Journal, Canada
Aug. 24, 2003
Rick Pedersen, The Edmonton Journal
www.canada.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Monday August 25, 2003

‘This is my chance to speak out’ – Jehovah’s Witness

EDMONTON – The Supreme Court of Canada may decide this week whether to hear an appeal from a local Jehovah’s Witness who was forced by a court to have a blood transfusion against her wishes.

“This is my chance to speak out,” Candice Unland said in an interview Saturday, speaking publicly for the first time in the four years since a judge ordered her to have a blood transfusion against her will.

“I want them to listen to me now,” Unland said. “They did not listen to me then.”

The resident of Morinville, just north of Edmonton, turns 21 next month. She was 16 when she was given blood.

Unland said she is speaking out now in an attempt to ensure the same thing never happens to another mature teen who refuses a blood transfusion for the same reasons: because the Bible says people should abstain from blood and because blood can carry diseases such as hepatitis.

She is also speaking out for Bethany Hughes, a Jehovah’s Witness who died of leukemia last year at 17 after an unsuccessful court battle to refuse the 38 transfusions she received as part of her cancer treatment.

Unland supported Hughes with phone calls and letters of support. After the Calgary teen died, Unland pledged to finish her fight.

Adults and mature minors have a clear common-law right to decide what medical treatment they will accept or refuse, Unland’s lawyer Shane Brady said.

This tradition plus Unland’s right to raise Charter of Rights issues are the two foundations for the Supreme Court appeal.

However, the court grants only 10 or 15 per cent of all applications to appeal, Brady said.

He said his client went to the Misericordia Hospital on April 15, 1999, after she experienced prolonged menstrual bleeding.

Unland agreed to have surgery to stop the bleeding but refused to have a blood transfusion during the operation even if doctors decided her life was in danger.

Unland said she arrived at the Misericordia about 1 p.m. and at 10 p.m. was taken to a conference room where she and her parents met a provincial court judge and a lawyer who was to represent her.

“I had no time to speak to my lawyer at all,” she remembers. “I felt I was not listened to at all.”

Both her parents — her father is a Jehovah’s Witness and her mother is Greek Orthodox — supported her right to make her own decision.

She said the judge took just 10 minutes to make her a ward of the province and grant permission for blood transfusions.

The Alberta Court of Appeal denied Unland’s appeal, in a written ruling Feb. 26, 2003.

Misericordia doctors told the 1999 hospital hearing that transfusions are required in 20 per cent of surgeries similar to the operation which stopped Unland’s bleeding, the Court of Appeal said.

“While conceding that the concept of a mature minor’s right to consent to treatment is embodied in the common law, the Crown argued that the CWA (Child Welfare Act) has supplanted any common law right of a mature minor to refuse treatment.”

Lower Alberta courts acknowledged Unland was a mature minor, the decision said, but decided the child welfare law permitted the ordering of a transfusion.

Lawyer David Gnam, who was asking the Supreme Court to review Hughes’s case when his client died, said the Unland appeal, funded by Jehovah’s Witnesses, defends the common law and Charter rights of teenagers.

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