B.C. would seek custody if sextuplets need blood

The Star Phoenix, Canada/January 12, 2007
By Lena Sin

Vancouver -- The British Columbia government says it's ready to step in to protect the health rights of premature sextuplets born in Vancouver.

While the parents of the six babies have remained anonymous in the midst of increasing public scrutiny, they have acknowledged they are Jehovah's Witnesses. The sect's well-known belief that God forbids blood transfusions could lead to a courtroom clash over medical and religious rights.

The babies, born at 25 weeks gestation, are about the size of a hand and weigh only 700 to 800 grams.

It is common for premature babies to require blood transfusions due to the number of tests they undergo leading to blood loss.

An official with the Ministry of Children and Family Development, speaking generally, said the government is prepared to take temporary custody of any children whose lives are at risk.

He would not comment on whether the government has contacted the parents.

All health-care workers have a legal duty to report to the ministry cases where parents have refused a doctor's recommended treatment that puts a child's life at risk.

"We would then assess and ensure appropriate steps have been taken to ensure the child's safety. In other words, we'd confer with medical experts involved and in cases where they deem treatment is necessary to preserve a child's life, then it'd be necessary for us to seek a court order -- and that's what we'd do," said the official.

Such a court order was sought in 2005 for a Jehovah's Witness teenager, who was ordered by the B.C. Supreme Court to undergo a blood transfusion as part of her cancer treatment.

She later received bloodless treatment in New York after negotiating with the B.C. government.

Mark Ruge, the national spokesperson for Jehovah's Witnesses in Canada, would not comment on what the church would do if the government intervened.

He says the choice of treatment remains a private matter between the parents and the medical team.

"It is important for the media and others to avoid making stereotypical assumptions regarding Jehovah's Witnesses," said Ruge.

He emphasized doctors have treated premature babies without blood transfusions by "careful attention to minimal blood sampling, clinical acceptance of lower hemoglobin levels, use of erythropoietin and iron to stimulate natural production of red blood cells and other recognized medical procedures."

But clarifications over the years have only made things more confusing for many followers. In 2000, the official Watchtower church magazine stated due to ambiguity in the Bible, followers may now take certain components of blood for medical treatment.

While the ban on blood transfusion remains, the new directive opened the door for use of such compounds as hemoglobin, obtained from fractioning red blood cells. But a schism within the tightly disciplined sect has led some followers to go as far as campaigning for a stop to the blood ban.

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