Irreconcilable beliefs shattered family

Parents' clash over transfusions led to divorce

Calgary Herald/November 16, 2003
By Daryl Slade

A bitter clash between religious beliefs and medical treatment led to the ultimate breakup and bankruptcy of a Calgary family, a judge has concluded in the parents' divorce action.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Rosemary Nation said in her 29-page decision the catalyst for the breakup between Lawrence and Arliss Hughes and their two daughters was differing opinions on whether their oldest daughter, Bethany, should receive blood transfusions,

All members of the family had been Jehovah's Witnesses for nearly 20 years and were opposed to receiving blood products when Bethany was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in February 2002.

Bethany, then 16, was made a ward of the province and given chemotherapy and more than three dozen blood transfusions against her will.

She died at age 17 in September 2002 - about seven months later.

Lawrence Hughes changed his position after discussions with doctors and fought to have his daughter receive what he believed was the best medical care.

"There is no question that Bethany's illness led Mr. Hughes to seriously question and ultimately reject the teaching of his and his family's religion, and that he paid a high price for that moral and religious decision, including the shunning by the Jehovah Witness congregation and alienation from his wife and children," Nation wrote in her 29-page decision.

Calgary lawyer Vaughn Marshall, who assisted Lawrence Hughes in the proceedings, said the case is important because it makes it dear the real cause of the family breakup was the opposing religious positions taken by the parents in a life-and-death decision regarding their daughter.

"You'd think their religious belief would provide comfort to a husband and wife whose child was stricken with a life-threatening illness and guide the family through the crisis," said Marshall.

"But, in this case, it not only failed to do that, it destroyed the family. First, Lawrence Hughes lost his daughter, then his family."

However, Shane Brady, lawyer for Bethany Hughes in the child welfare matter and Arliss Hughes in the divorce proceedings, said the judgment recognizes it was Bethany who made the decision about blood transfusions. "Arliss was concerned about (the child welfare judge's comments) about Arliss's parenting abilities and that she may have influenced Bethany," said Brady. "Justice Nation was the only one who heard live evidence from anyone and she repeated a number of times that it was Bethany who made the decision and that Arliss was simply supporting Bethany in her decision".

"Arliss is pleased that has been clarified and cleaned up" he said.

Brady also said Nation did recognize in a couple of passages it was the maturity of Bethany that was really the factor in the medical treatment decisions.

"Her view all the way along and the evidence led in court was that the family had problems even before Bethany got sick, and this is just one tragic, tragic result of the family's circum stances," said Brady.

Lawrence Hughes testified during the trial he incurred more than $200,000 in legal fees and paid $20,000 of it out of his own pocket, pushing him into bankruptcy.

Brady represented Bethany in her court battle, which included applying for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada about the rights of a i6-year-old to determine her own treatment.

"I do recognize that the religious views of the Jehovah Witness faith, as they were presented in court by the father and not contradicted in court by the mother, would lead members of the faith (which would include Mrs. Hughes and two daughters) to disagree with the position of Mt Hughes in relation to blood transfusions and reject him because of those views," wrote Nation.

She added, however, she did not believe either parent, in defending their religious belief as it relates to a matter as fundamental as the medical treatment of their child, could be considered in misconduct under the Divorce Act.

But, she noted, the situation around Bethany's illness did seriously affect the family economically.

Father Lawrence Hughes became an outsider after shunning his family's religious beliefs to battle his wife over their daughter's medical care.

Bethany Hughes, who was declared a ward of the province and was given blood transfusions and chemotherapy against her will, before dying in September2002 at age 17. Father Lawrence Hughes became an outsider after shunning his family's religious beliefs to battle his wife over their daughter's medical care.

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