Lawyers carry on court fight of Alta. Jehovah’s Witness girl after her death

Calgary Herald (Canada), Sep. 9, 2002

CALGARY (CP) – A lawyer for a Jehovah’s Witness teenage girl, who died of leukemia following a highly publicized battle over blood transfusions, says he will follow her wishes by continuing her fight in court for the right of minors to make their own medical decisions.

Two nights before her death last Thursday, 17-year-old Bethany Hughes made him promise he would do all he could to finish the fight she started, said the lawyer, David Day.

To back up her request, she reminded him of a videotape she made earlier in the summer, to be used in court if she died, Day said.

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

“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 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.”

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

“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.

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

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

Bethany’s father, Lawrence Hughes, announced Friday he intends to file a lawsuit against the Watchtower Society, the legal organization that represents the religious group. During his daughter’s illness, Hughes split with his family and the religious group and wanted conventional treatment for her.

Day would not comment on Lawrence Hughes’ plan, but is adamant his young client was not influenced by the church.

“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.”

Day said he fully investigated whether Hughes was being coerced by other parties during her fight with 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.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday September 10, 2002.
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