Parents split over treatment of Jehovah’s Witness girl hug at her burial

Canadian Press, Sep. 13, 2002

CALGARY (CP) – The parents who fought bitterly over the treatment of their cancer-stricken Jehovah’s Witness daughter shared their sorrow Thursday at her burial. Arliss and Lawrence Hughes stood looking at each other for a second at the gravesite of 17-year-old Bethany, seemingly unsure what to do.

Then they hugged for close to a minute, tears rolling down their faces, staining his dark suit. As they pulled apart, she dabbed his eyes with a scrunched-up tissue.

“I just hope that everyone will know this is a difficult time for us,” said Arliss, her face red with emotion. “We were always very proud of Bethany, and we all loved her very much.”

Bethany died Sept. 5 after an eight-month battle with acute myeloid leukemia.

A staunch Jehovah’s Witness, the teenager made headlines when she refused blood transfusions, a treatment that went against her faith.

Her father launched a legal fight and Bethany was made a ward of the province, and forced to undergo close to 40 transfusions against her will, a decision she fought in all levels of the courts.

She spent the last six weeks of her life seeking alternative treatment at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton.

Lawrence, in the middle of divorce proceedings with Arliss, had stayed away from the huge public memorial service “out of respect to Bethany and my family.” But he said Thursday he had to attend the graveside service, to say a final goodbye.

He stood over his daughter’s grave, placing a stem of white flowers on the coffin that was mauve, Bethany’s favourite colour. He then hugged his two other daughters, Cassandra Hughes, 15, and Athalia Larson, 22.

“I didn’t get to see her (Bethany) for over two months. Her or my other daughter, Cassie,” he said, referring to the time Bethany spent at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton.

“I did visit her body yesterday. And I had to come here today. Bethany’s death doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Arliss Hughes, who was at her daughter’s bedside for her last hours, struggled through both services, her daughters and Bethany’s lawyer, David Gnam, at her side.

She bowed her head in prayer beside the grave, tightly gripping Cassandra’s hand, and consoled by family friend Iolanda Brady.

Another of Bethany’s lawyers, David Day, of St. John’s, Nfld., has said he will follow her wishes by continuing her fight in court for the right of minors to make their own medical decisions.

Lawrence has said he intends to file a lawsuit against the Watchtower Society, the legal organization that represents the religious group.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday September 13, 2002.
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