B.C. girl must have a blood transfusion: court

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VANCOUVER — A young Okanagan girl must accept a blood transfusion as part of her treatment for cancer, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled on Monday.

The 14-year-old girl is a Jehovah Witness and had argued blood transfusions violate her religious beliefs.

But Madam Justice Mary Boyd ruled freedom of religion is not absolute, and the protection of a child's right to life is a basic part of the legal system.

The girl's family lawyer, Shane Brady, said the girl's family is "disappointed'' and is considering taking the case to the B.C. Court of Appeal.

"The family is disappointed because their position has been, all along, that once the court has found that she is as capable as you and I, that young woman should make the decision,'' said Brady.

"The treating doctor has assured the young woman that he would not impose a transfusion upon her. That's a question the young woman and her doctor will have to address.''

The girl's name and her home town cannot be used because of a publication ban.

She wasn't in court Monday but her mother, who lives in Calgary, heard the judgment but had no comment.

Brady said the girl's evidence showed she believed blood transfusions were a "violation of the Biblical command to abstain from blood.''

The girl was diagnosed in December with a cancerous tumour on her right leg.

The tumour was removed and the girl began chemotherapy.

After the girl and her family refused consent for blood transfusions, the case was forwarded to B.C.'s director of Child, Family and Community Service.

In court documents, the girl described how a transfusion would contravene her religious beliefs.

"It's no different than somebody getting sexually assaulted or raped or robbed or something,'' she said.

"You'd feel violated because it's not anybody else's property, it's you.''

Lawyers for the girl fought the case on the grounds the girl was not represented by legal counsel and that she was a "mature minor,'' capable of deciding her own treatment.

They also said the girl's Charter of Rights were infringed by provincial law and she had suffered age discrimination.

Boyd said Monday by Mar. 15, the girl's haemoglobin dropped to "well below'' levels where a transfusion is normally given.

Doctors used "extraordinary measures'' to treat her without using transfusions, said Boyd.

Boyd found that provincial court Judge Paul Meyers was "considered, thoughtful and sensitive'' in ensuring the child had a fair hearing on Mar. 18.

Boyd said doctors needed the "safety net'' of having a transfusion available, to continue with a more invasive cycle of chemotherapy that the girl is due to start Wednesday.

A lawyer for the director of Child, Family and Community Service said the judge ruled blood transfusions would be used if medically required.

"The doctor who has been treating this young woman has said that, in all cases that he has been involved in, a person with this kind of cancer requires a blood transfusion,'' said Ed Lyszkiewicz on Monday.

The girl has agreed to chemotherapy treatments and to the removal of a cancerous tumour from her right leg, even if it means amputation.