Manitoba Jehovah's Witness teen says she was scared by forced transfusion

Canadian Press/September 8, 2006
By Michelle Macafee

Winnipeg -- A 15-year-old Jehovah's Witness with Crohn's disease says she was overwhelmed and scared when she was given a blood transfusion last spring against her will.

The girl, who can't be identified, was in Manitoba Court of Appeal with her parents Thursday to fight an order that gave Child and Family Services the power to force her to have a transfusion they deemed medically necessary.

Jehovah's Witnesses oppose transfusions because they interpret certain passages of the Bible as forbidding the ingestion of blood.

"Really, I try to forget about it," the girl told The Canadian Press in an interview following the court hearing.

"It really frightened me to see that there's something wrong with our system. I was overwhelmed with what happened."

She said she felt helpless to refuse the transfusion, knowing that another patient in a similar situation had been put in restraints.

But she wants to fight the order to make sure she - and others - won't have to go through the same situation again.

The Grade 11 student was diagnosed last year with Crohn's, a chronic illness that can affect the gastrointestinal tract.

She says she was bleeding quite a bit when she was admitted to hospital in April with a flare-up, but insists the transfusion did little to help her - although her symptoms subsided.

When she refused treatment, Child and Family Services obtained a court order allowing doctors to give blood transfusions or blood products "as they deem medically necessary" without the consent of the teen or her parents.

Dressed in a stylish beige suit, the girl followed Thursday's court proceedings closely, reading along with the lawyer's book of submissions to the justices.

Much of the arguments centred around whether the girl should have been allowed to make her own treatment decisions as a "mature minor."

Lawyer Shane Brady, who represented the girl's parents, argued she should be treated as a mature minor under the law because she understands her illness and why she is refusing transfusions.

Justice Freda Steel asked Brady why this situation is different than other examples of age limits imposed on people, such as not being able to get a driver's licence until the age of 16.

He replied that patients must be looked at individually in medical cases, regardless of age and questions of human dignity should not be resolved by setting an arbitrary age cut-off.

"She has been denied the right to decide what happens to her body - that's a fundamental right," said Brady. "Deciding when to drive a car is not a fundamental right."

He added the Child and Family Services Act is meant to protect those who are incapable of looking after themselves - not interfere with a capable person's decision.

Lawyer Michael Thomson, representing Child and Family Services, said in urgent cases such as the girl's, a line has to be drawn quickly to determine when someone is capable - and sometimes the yardstick is age.

Determining capacity is complex and time consuming, he added.

A lawyer for Manitoba's Attorney General added distinctions must be made between decisions such as whether a minor can pierce their ears, or have a broken arm put in a cast, and a blood transfusion.

Deborah Carlson said the court's responsibility is to conduct "a balancing exercise that depends on the circumstance of the case . . . and uses the test of what's in her best interest."

The justices reserved their decision.

The girl said she has come to terms with the fact she went against her church's teaching because everyone understands she didn't have the transfusion willingly.

"I had the support of all my friends and my peers knew I refused it and it wasn't my fault I got the transfusion," said the teen. "They weren't shunning me or anything."

She said she takes further comfort in her Bible readings.

"God really cares for me and he knows what happened, but he forgives me."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.