Parents of B.C. sextuplets lose battle over forced blood transfusions

Canwest News Service, Canada/June 13, 2008

Vancouver - A B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled the province did not infringe on the rights of a Jehovah's Witness couple when it forced four of their premature sextuplets to undergo blood transfusions.

In a judgment released Friday, Chief Justice Donald Brenner said the transfusions were necessary.

"This case lies at the intersection of the rights and responsibility of parents to make sound health-care decisions for their children and the duty, indeed, the obligation, of the state to override that right in appropriate circumstances," the judge wrote.

The six babies were born Jan. 7, 2007, at the B.C. Women's and Children's Hospital at 25 weeks' gestation. They had extremely low birth weights, required resuscitation at birth, and were admitted to the neonatal intensive-care unit.

Two of the infants died in the first two weeks due to complications of prematurity. The four others required blood transfusions.

The parents are Jehovah's Witnesses, and their beliefs prohibit blood transfusions.

Over the parents' objection, the director of Child, Family and Community Service of B.C. obtained orders in provincial court authorizing transfusions for two of the infants.

The director apprehended the other two children under the Child, Family and Community Service Act and authorized their transfusions.

After the blood transfusions were administered, all four children were returned to the care of their parents.

The judgment came after the parents appealed two provincial court orders allowing the transfusions. The parents also sought a judicial review of the ministry's decision to apprehend two other babies and allow them to receive transfusions.

The parents alleged the province and court infringed on their charter rights in two areas: freedom of religion and the right to life, liberty and security of the person and not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

Counsel for the parents said depriving parents of the right to make medical decisions for their children "is an obvious violation of the parents' liberty interest and security of the person."

In the decision, the judge said, the four babies' blood transfusions were medically necessary.

Because he deemed the transfusions necessary, the judge said he found it "difficult to see how the decisions of either the provincial court or the director can be said to have been incorrect" and concluded the parents' rights were not infringed upon.

Brenner said the proceeding is "moot," given that the infants were returned to their parents very shortly after the transfusions.

"Even if I were to conclude that the lower courts erred or that the director lacked jurisdiction, I could not grant any meaningful remedy with respect to the blood transfusions," he said.

The appeals and application for review were dismissed.

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