Lawyers say transfusions given to babies were necessary, not risky

Vancouver Province/February 29, 2008

Government lawyers say that the controversial blood transfusions given to four babies who survived the birth of the sextuplets last year were medically necessary and presented a low risk to the infants.

A lawyer for the Jehovah's Witness parents argued that there was no emergency and there were risks when the premature babies were given transfusions in January 2007.

But Margot Fleming, a lawyer for the director of Child, Family and Community Services told B.C. Supreme Court Justice Donald Brenner that the approach of the treating physicians was in accord with Canadian law and medical practices.

"They sought to provide transfusions only when they thought they were medically necessary."

She said while there was no imminent threat of death, there was a risk of serious or permanent harm if they were not given transfusions.

Fleming said one of the two children seized by the ministry after the parents refused transfusions was "clinically very unstable," requiring morphine sedation to deal with restlessness and other problems. The other child seized suffered a rapid drop in hemoglobin level and "was perhaps in the most urgent need of a transfusion," she said.

Lawyer Kris Chen, also representing the ministry, told the judge that the evidence of the government's expert witnesses ought to be preferred over the family's experts.

She described one of the family's experts, a physician from New Mexico, as being almost "overzealous" in her advocacy of a blood-boosting agent known as erythropoietin, or EPO. The government lawyers made their comments during final submissions following the cross-examination in January of several doctors.

The family's lawyer, Shane Brady, who is claiming that the parents' rights were violated by the transfusions, told the judge that his clients chose to refuse the procedures not just out of religious conviction.

"The parents were choosing within the range of medical practice. They were exercising reasonable and responsible decisions, religious convictions aside. They're entitled to make that choice and every other parent is when choosing for their child when there is a credible, medical range of treatment to chose from."

The Jehovah's Witness religion opposes transfusions. The names of the children and their parents have been banned under a court order. The judge reserved his decision.

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