CALGARY — A Calgary man suing the Jehovah’s Witnesses, claiming they contributed to his daughter’s death by encouraging her to avoid life-saving blood transfusions, said today his lawsuit is for her and for his family.
“The Jehovah’s Witness church stole away my family, friends and 20 years of my life,” Lawrence Hughes said outside Calgary’s Court of Queen’s Bench, where he filed the lawsuit. “I paid a high price to give my daughter a chance to live.
“This lawsuit is for Bethany and if Bethany’s listening, I want her to know I love her,” he added as he choked back tears.
Bethany Hughes died at age 17 on Sept. 5, 2002, after being diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of blood cancer seven months earlier.
In his statement of claim, Hughes says his former wife Arliss Hughes and the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society — the organization that represents the Jehovah’s Witness religion — “overtly influenced Bethany to believe that blood transfusions were wrong and would not help cure her cancer.”
The lawsuit also alleges “the Watch Tower defendants committed the (civil wrongs) of deceit and undue influence, all of which contributed to and led to the circumstances causing the death of Bethany.”
Bethany’s illness and death tore the family apart and renewed public debate over how to determine when a child should be able to dictate his or her own medical care.
When Bethany was diagnosed with leukemia at age 16, Lawrence Hughes split with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and his wife over her treatment. He said the transfusions should be undertaken if that was the only way to save her.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that it’s against God’s wishes for one person to take blood from another.
The fight over Bethany’s care was bitter. The Alberta government stepped in and won temporary custody of her and against her wishes she was given 38 transfusions until they were deemed ineffective. She died less than two months later.
Lawyers for the Jehovah’s Witnesses fought in court for the teen’s right to decide her treatment.
The Charter of Rights allows those 18 and older to decide. Medical ethics dictate that all mature children should be allowed to decide unless their competence has been compromised.
Even though five pediatricians and psychiatrists found Bethany to be mature enough to decide her own treatment, the courts ruled she was pressured by her religion and didn’t have a free, informed will.
The Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear an appeal.
The statement of claim, which contains allegations yet to be proven in court, said Bethany was encouraged to not question her beliefs during prayer services held in her hospital room. At one point, said the document, Arliss Hughes tried to pull intravenous lines from Bethany’s arm.
“These defendants unduly influenced Bethany to prevent her from questioning her belief system — that it was against God’s law to take a blood transfusion and that if she did, she would be eternally damned by God and not survive Armageddon,” reads the statement.
The lawsuit names Watch Tower lawyers David Gnam and Shane Brady as defendants.
Brady, reached today at his office in Georgetown, Ont., said the allegations have already been raised in the Hughes’ divorce proceedings.
“Mr. Hughes is entitled to his day in court. I don’t say he shouldn’t have his day in court but he’s already had his day,” he said.
Lawrence Hughes, who brought his family to Calgary from their home in Belleville, Ont., in the late 1990s, said that because of the dispute, he has been shunned by his family and the Jehovah’s Witness community.
He said he hopes his lawsuit will help others. “I just want to stop the deaths of innocent people and hopefully to prevent my (other) daughters from dying as well.”
He is also suing the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton.
After the transfusions were stopped and Bethany was released from the government’s care, Hughes said the mother and the Jehovah’s Witnesses secretly took her to the Cross Cancer Institute, where she was given treatment that didn’t include transfusions.
By keeping him in the dark, said Hughes in the statement, they prevented him from taking steps to get her treatment that may have helped save her.