VANCOUVER — The parents of Canada’s first sextuplets are heading to court on Monday to fight the B.C. government’s seizure of their babies for potentially life-saving blood transfusions.
Their lawyer, Shane Brady, said his clients want the court to rule that their constitutional rights were violated.
“The family’s very upset with what happened,” Brady said. They were never given an opportunity to defend themselves.”
The parents, who have never spoken to the media, are Jehovah’s Witnesses whose religion forbids blood transfusions under any circumstance.
While they are in court for the two-day hearing, former Jehovah’s Witnesses will be outside protesting the stance of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Canada, which speaks for members of the sect and sets policies for them to follow.
The parents’ names, and those of their four surviving children-two boys and two girls-are under a publication ban.
Two of the six premature children died soon after their birth on Jan. 7-almost three months before their due date.
All the babies were believed to have weighed about 1.8 pounds each.
On Feb. 21, the parents were to appear in B.C. Supreme Court to appeal the Liberal government’s decision to allow doctors to give transfusions to three of their kids.
But the court battle was postponed after the Ministry of Children and Families asked for an adjournment of proceedings because of the massive amount of information that had been forwarded in the case.
Brady said the parents want to pursue the appeal even though the government gave control of their children’s medical future back to them after they started court proceedings.
“If the government took control of your child and they made certain assumptions and statements and maybe even authorized treatment that you objected to I would think for many parents that wouldn’t be the end of the story,” he said.
“They want some answers and they want the court to say that what happened was unfair and shouldn’t have happened.”
He said the government authorized the transfusions despite the parents’ belief that they were medically unnecessary.
“It wasn’t just simply a matter of ‘Sorry, we took your kids and it was a mistake and here you go, they’re back again.’ Unfortunately, things happened.”
If the court agrees that the parents’ rights were violated it would make a declaration that it shouldn’t have happened, giving the family a moral remedy, said Brady, a Jehovah’s Witness who often represents members of the sect.
He wouldn’t elaborate on what condition the four surviving babies are in, other than to say “they’re healthy.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses say accepting blood transfusions is against God’s wishes and would prevent them from having everlasting life.
They cite two verses in the biblical book of Acts, which state that God’s followers must “abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.”
In a court affidavit, the children’s father said he and his wife “could not bear to be at the hospital while they were violating our little girl.”
“We took our immense sadness and grief and tried to console each other in private.”
Chris Christensen, a former Jehovah’s Witness from Lac du Bonnet, Man., said he will participate in a rally outside B.C. Supreme Court during the two-day hearing on Monday and Tuesday to protest the Georgetown, Ont.-based Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society’s stance on blood transfusions.
Christensen said the sextuplets’ parents should have had the right to decide for themselves if they wanted their babies to have blood transfusions.
– Four Dangers of the Jehovah’s Witness Organization
Up until the 1950s, that was the society’s position, he said, adding what was once a matter of choice then became a sin.
“Their original position was the right one,” he said from his home, about an hour northeast of Winnipeg.
Christensen said other former Jehovah’s Witnesses, including those from Vancouver, Washingtoni State and Alberta, will join him in the protest to send a strong message about the society to “all Canadians.”
Calgary resident Lawrence Hughes, also a former Jehovah’s Witness, said people who die after refusing blood transfusions are treated as martyrs by the society.
Hughes has sued the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Canada over what he considers the wrongful death of his 16-year-old daughter Bethany in 2002.
The lawsuit, and another one against Brady for advising his daughter to take arsenic as a viable treatment, will be heard in the Alberta Court of Appeal on June 28.
Bethany Hughes needed blood transfusions as part of her treatment for leukemia, but Hughes said the society convinced his daughter that there were alternative procedures, although doctors have said they don’t work.
“I think what the B.C. government did was the right thing, giving these babies a chance to live,” he said.
“What these parents are doing is infringing the rights of the babies by forcing their religious beliefs on them.”