Bethany’s fight goes on after her death

Calgarty Herald (Canada), Sep. 7, 2002
http://www.canada.com/

Two nights before her death, 17-year-old Bethany Hughes sat down with her lawyer and made him promise.

She made him promise to continue her fight, even after her passing.

She made him promise he would do all he could to ensure he would finish the fight she started.

And to back up her request, she reminded him of a videotape she made earlier in the summer, to be used in court if she couldn’t be there in person. To be used if she died.

So, next Tuesday, five days after her death, Bethany Hughes will live on in a court-house in downtown Calgary, after her lawyers decided Friday to continue her case.

Her fight: to ensure no young Canadian has to go through what she did.

“She told me shortly prior to her death that she wished me to pursue all reasonable legal avenues, right through to the Supreme Court of Canada, in an effort to vindicate her charter rights,” said lawyer David Day.

“She wanted the right to make her own medical decisions as a mature young person. I wasn’t in the least bit surprised. She was very, very principled, very single-minded.

“It’s what she wanted to do,” Day said.

Day and another lawyer who worked for the Calgary teen, David Gnam, will appear in Alberta family and youth court Tuesday before Judge Alberta Vickery to argue for the teenager’s case to continue to be heard despite her death on Thursday.

Hughes requested that her lawyers argue for the constitutional right of a mature minor to make his or her own medical decisions.

Hughes, a staunch Jehovah’s Witness, opposed blood transfusions because of her faith. She was forced to have the treatment for a rare and aggressive form of leukemia, but fought the order in court.

However, judges consistently ruled against the findings of psychiatrists, who argued Bethany was a mature minor.

If allowed to proceed, her case could go all the way to the Supreme Court in Ottawa.

“She was of the view that she doesn’t wish another mature young person to undergo the experience that she underwent — of forced medical treatment under sedation, and other forms of physical restraint,” said Day. “That has been the position that she has taken throughout.”

Day would not comment on the case’s chances of going forward. The case is one of two which are soon to go before the courts following Hughes’ death.

Her father Lawrence announced Friday he is launching a class-action lawsuit against the Watchtower Society, the legal organization that represents the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Speaking on the steps of Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Clinic, where his daughter died a day earlier, Hughes claimed the religious group interfered in a dispute between him, his estranged wife Arliss and his daughter over the blood transfusions.

Hughes contends that since mid-July, when Bethany went to Edmonton for chemotherapy treatment without blood transfusions for her acute myeloid leukemia, he had no access to his daughter other than by telephone.

He is setting up a Web site — www.watchtower-victims.org — asking for others with gripes against the society to help him in his fight.

“I’m holding the Watchtower Society responsible. The church said they had nothing to do with this — lies, lies and more lies,” said Hughes.

Day would not comment on the class-action suit, but is adamant his client was not influenced by the church.

He said Bethany’s wish to continue her fight beyond her death had little to do with her religious beliefs, and he rejected accusations she was unduly influenced by members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses faith.

“I have practised law for 35 years and I stake my reputation on this. I have had no contact from any representative of the church or any other Jehovah’s Witnesses. I have had no third party bringing messages to me,” Day said.

“I have never had any indication that she has been motivated by others. She was very much in control of her case.

“I am quite satisfied, beyond reasonable doubt, that her instructions were her instructions alone, without a scintilla of evidence from anybody else,” he said.

Day said he fully investigated whether Hughes was being coerced by other parties during her fight with both cancer and the province.

“When I become involved in any case involving a young person, the first thing I look for is evidence of influence, whether it’s from a parent, a relative, a friend or an organization,” said Day, a prominent lawyer from St. John’s, Nfld.

“I am very conscious of that, because obviously I don’t want to be duped.

“I don’t want to appear at a court of law to simply mouth what a self-interest group might be attempting to feed that young person,” said Day.

A private funeral for Bethany Hughes will be held in Calgary next Thursday.

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