Jehovah's Witness suit reinstated

Dad can proceed with legal action

The Calgary Sun/September 1, 2007

Shunned Jehovah's Witness Lawrence Hughes can proceed with legal action on behalf of his daughter's estate over allegations the church's influence hastened her death.

In a written decision, the Alberta Court of Appeal yesterday said Hughes should be restored as administrator of his dead daughter's estate.

And, the top court ruled, litigation over allegations church members misrepresented the benefits of blood transfusions to Bethany Hughes could proceed.

But the appeal judges noted the case will not put on trial the belief of Jehovah's Witnesses that blood transfusions are wrong.

"The pleadings will not require any examination of the 'truth' of the (church members) beliefs about blood transfusions," the judges said.

A lower court judge ruled last year the allegations of misrepresentation was simply an attack on Jehovah's Witnesses beliefs.

Justice Patricia Rowbotham said litigation couldn't proceed on the basis a religious belief is wrong.

But the appeal court said Charter protected freedom of religion is "subject to those limitations that are justifiable in a free and democratic society."

"It is not at all clear to what extent a religious adherent can convince another person to take actions for religious reasons that will cause him or her bodily harm or even death, even if the religious belief is sincerely held," they said

The appeal judges said those issues could only be resolved in a full trial.

Bethany Hughes, 17, died Sept. 5, 2002, two months after court-imposed transfusions were stopped when doctors determined they were ineffective. She had refused to approve the treatments based on her religious beliefs.

Lawrence Hughes commenced his nearly $1-million wrongful death suit two years later after a court approved him as administrator of the estate. That decision was later struck, effectively ending his legal action, but the appeal court reinstated him.

"It might be that the Charter protected right of freedom of religion would protect actions of this sort if they are honestly held," they said.

"It might be argued at trial that there is no reasonable limit that would be recognized in a free and democratic society that would prevent the religious adherent from giving such medical advice."

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