Sat, February 26, 2005

Dad can keep up fight
Father to continue suit against Jehovah's Witnesses in daughter's death

Shunned Jehovah's Witness Lawrence Hughes can continue to represent his daughter's estate in a lawsuit claiming the church is responsible for her death, a judge ruled yesterday. Justice Ged Hawco said Hughes was properly named the legal administrator of his daughter Bethany's estate at a hearing last August.

Hughes was made "administrator ad litem" Aug. 25, 2004, in a hearing in which no opposing parties were present.

Hawco said there was a legitimate urgency to the one-party application because the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death suit was just days away.

Bethany, 17, died Sept. 5, 2002, from leukemia after a lengthy court battle to allow the Calgary teen to refuse forced blood transfusions on religious grounds.

"It's clear the limitation period was due to expire shortly," said Hawco, noting a lawsuit had to be filed by Sept. 4, 2004.

A lawyer for the dead girl's mother, Arliss Hughes, had also argued the father should not have been appointed because Bethany didn't agree with his views on transfusions.

But, Hawco said the whole basis of the lawsuit is the father's claim members of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society influenced her opposition to such treatments.

"He is alleging that his daughter opposed the transfusions because of the pressures exerted upon her by the defendants," Hawco said.

"Whether the claim is legitimate or not is a decision to be made by this court on another day," he said, noting a hearing to strike the entire lawsuit is pending.

"If I were to grant their application today, they would effectively be successful in striking the statement of claim without a hearing on the merits."

Outside court, the mother issued a written statement through her lawyer criticizing her ex-husband for pursuing the case.

"It is unfortunate Mr. Hughes still cannot come to grips with the reality that Bethany's tragic death was due to her terminal leukemia," she said.

The father is seeking nearly $1 million in damages.