Jehovah’s Witness teen lived life on her own terms, until her dying day

Canadian Press, Sep. 5, 2002

CALGARY (CP) — Barely two, Bethany Hughes hadn’t learned how to walk but she knew exactly how to get a toy back from her eight-year-old sister.

Crawling on hands and knees, she charged across the room, rammed her head into her sister’s stomach, knocked her opponent down and snatched the spoils.

“She’s stubborn, obstinate, direct and bold,” Lawrence Hughes says proudly of his daughter. “She was born that way.”

Hughes, who died of leukemia Thursday in an Edmonton hospital barely two weeks after her 17th birthday, was a fighter and eventually the Jehovah’s Witness teen won the fight of her life — the right to refuse blood transfusions and to die with dignity.

Her family was torn apart after her father consented to blood transfusions. Bethany, her mother and two sisters argued for the right to refuse the blood as dictated by the Witness faith, but the courts ruled that the transfusions were the girl’s only real hope.

The middle child, sandwiched between two sisters — Cassandra, now 15, and Aphalia, 22 — Bethany quickly carved out her own place. She was incessantly curious about people and things around her, said her mother.

“Bethany just loved people, she was always outgoing,” said Arliss Hughes.

“She’s a very determined young women, never taking anyone’s say-so. She investigates it on her own.”

Born Aug. 20, 1985, Bethany was raised in a 10-bedroom Victorian brick house in Belleville, Ont. Her father, an architect engineer, and her mother, a restaurant waitress, and the three girls drove around town in their stylish Cadillac.

The day the infant Bethany came home from hospital, she made her first visit to the Kingdom Hall. The family went to church meetings three times a week, with Bethany often decked out in frilly dresses, sometimes wearing identical clothes to those of her younger sister and best friend, Cassandra.

A bundle of energy, she loved sports, not so much to win but simply to play — volleyball, tennis, skiing, swimming, and cycling. The tomboy of the family, she regularly visited the hospital to have a broken leg or a sprained ankle mended.

“It was a joke at the hospital because everyone knew her by name,” said her father. “She was on crutches a lot.”

Bethany was extremely bright and a quick study.

By age four, she would read to her kindergarten classmates their report card marks and the teacher’s comments.

“Parents used to get upset because their kids would come home and they would already know what their marks were,” her father said.

“The parents wanted to share their kids’ excitement, but Bethany had already told them all their marks.”

At 13, Bethany was excited about the family moving from a small city to Calgary, leaving behind the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys for more mature alternative music. She discovered downhill skiing and hockey games at the Saddledome.

“We have the same interests,” Cassandra said recently. She added shopping, babysitting, and cooking to the list.

An avid Maple Leafs hockey fan, the door of Bethany’s hospital room — where she spent half of this year battling cancer — was draped with a banner: “Go Leafs Go.”

The room was crammed with more than 100 stuffed animals, hundreds of get-well cards, helium balloons, Star Wars videos and two prized Maple Leafs sweaters. Always within arm’s reach was her most valued possession — the Bible — her perpetual source of hope and inspiration.


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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday September 7, 2002.
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