Religion, rights could clash in multiple birth case

VANCOUVER — While the parents of sextuplets born this week in B.C. Children’s Hospital are striving to keep a low profile, the health of their babies could propel them into a courtroom and a very public clash over medical responsibilities and religious rights.

The British Columbia ministry responsible for the welfare of children confirmed yesterday that it is prepared to make the babies wards of the state, if necessary, to ensure their safety.

The parents, who have remained anonymous despite massive media attention, are Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of a faith that forbids members to accept blood transfusions.

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The babies were born at just 25 weeks gestation and weighing 700 to 800 grams.

Jehovah’s Witnesses and Blood

“[T]he Jehovah’s Witnesses organization prohibits the use of blood transfusions. Individual Jehovah’s Witnesses are expected to die or let their children die, rather than break this command, even though the Scriptures nowhere teach that blood transfusions are wrong.”
Four Dangers of the Jehovah’s Witness Organization

Hospital officials say blood transfusions are commonly required in such premature births, but they have declined to say what position the parents of the sextuplets are taking on the issue.

An official with the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development, speaking on a background basis, said the government is very much aware of the situation and is prepared to act, if necessary.

“We can’t comment on the specifics of this case, but in general what we can say is the ministry’s priority is and always will be the health and well-being of children. . . .

“If a health practitioner is aware of a case where a child, including a newborn, may be at risk as a result of a parent refusing to consent with a recommended treatment, the health practitioner has a legal duty to report that matter to a child-protection worker. And we would then assess and take appropriate steps to ensure the child’s safety,” the official said.

“In cases where treatment is deemed to be necessary to preserve a child’s life, or prevent serious or permanent impairment to a child’s health, it may be necessary to seek a court order – and that’s what we would do.”

Stan Lowe, a Crown counsel spokesman, said the government has gone to court in the past to ensure that children of Jehovah’s Witnesses get blood transfusions when deemed medically necessary.

He said doctors likely would not act without a court order.

“I think the court does have to get involved because doctors are very leery of the fact that first and foremost the parents are the official guardians of the child and they sign off on medical treatment. Where that can be offset is where the government becomes involved . . . and asks [the court] for specific orders and then guardianship . . . is transferred to the government for the purposes of medical treatment.”

In such cases, guardianship typically exists only to enforce the medical treatment and it does not involve removing children from the care of parents.

In a statement released yesterday by Mark Ruge, public information spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada, the church expressed support for the parents and reaffirmed its beliefs concerning transfusions.

“The community of Jehovah’s Witnesses, like all Canadians, wish the very best for the sextuplets and their parents. The choice of treatment and discussions about treatment are private matters between the parents and their treating medical team,” said the written statement.

“Jehovah’s Witnesses place a high spiritual value on prayer, faith, and Bible reading but do not substitute these for medical treatment. They seek the best medical treatment available for themselves and their children. An article in the American Journal of Medicine observed that except for refusal of one therapy — blood transfusion — Jehovah’s Witnesses are ‘totally within the mainstream of modern medicine.’ ”

The statement referred to scriptures (Acts 15:28,29) that it said require Jehovah’s Witnesses “to abstain from . . . blood.”

The statement also said that alternatives to blood transfusions are available.

“Hospitals in Canada and the United States have treated extremely premature infants without blood transfusions by careful attention to minimal blood sampling, clinical acceptance of lower hemoglobin levels, use of erythropoietin and iron to stimulate the natural production of red blood cells, and other recognized medical procedures and techniques,” it stated.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Mark Hume, The Globe and Mail, Jan. 11, 2007,

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday January 11, 2007.
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