Father wins right to pursue suit against Jehovah's Witnesses

Leanne Dohy

Staff Writer

Saturday, February 26, 2005 - Page A10

CALGARY - A man who believes the Jehovah's Witnesses helped cause his daughter's death will remain the administrator of her estate, Alberta's Court of Queen's Bench ruled on Friday.

After being named administrator of his daughter Bethany's estate last Aug. 25, Lawrence Hughes launched a $1-million wrongful death lawsuit on her behalf against the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Canada, Edmonton's Cross Cancer Institute, several doctors and several Jehovah's Witnesses.

Bethany's mother, Arliss Hughes, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and several other defendants wanted the administration order set aside on the grounds that Lawrence Hughes had failed to disclose relevant facts when he made his application.

Justice Ged Hawco refused to set the order aside.

"This has been a very good day," Lawrence Hughes said outside the courthouse. "My daughter Bethany will have the opportunity to speak for the very first time and tell what happened to her. She was a sick, frail child who was pressured, coerced and brainwashed by the Watchtower Society." [Lawrence Hughes, in his personal capacity as well as Administrator of the Estate, is represented by Calgary lawyer Vaughn Marshall]

Bethany Hughes died Sept. 5, 2002, less than six months after a series of blood transfusions she was given against her wishes. Alberta Children's Services assumed custody of the girl after she refused conventional treatment for the disease. Lawrence Hughes, who had been a practising Jehovah's Witness until after Bethany's diagnosis, also battled to have his daughter receive the transfusions.

Bethany fought the transfusions, trying to pull the medical tubes from her arms while being treated at Alberta Children's Hospital.

"If Bethany had accepted the blood transfusions, she would have been . . . shunned by her family and all of her friends," Hughes said. "If Bethany had accepted the blood transfusions, she was taught to believe, God would have destroyed her at Armageddon."

Arliss Hughes said that it is unfortunate that Bethany's father "cannot come to grips with the reality that Bethany's tragic death was due to her terminal leukemia."

"Mr. Hughes and I . . . were present in court proceedings on July 2, 2002 when Provincial Court Judge Vickery ruled Bethany's leukemia was terminal and the treatment recommendation was palliative care without blood transfusions," Hughes said in a statement. "It is offensive and deeply disturbing for Mr. Hughes to now blame Bethany's death on me, Bethany's friends, her doctors, the hospital in Edmonton and our faith."

Justice Hawco said in his ruling that although there was a failure to disclose some material information, appointing Lawrence Hughes administrator was appropriate.

"(Hughes) is alleging that his daughter opposed the transfusions because of the pressures exerted upon her by the defendants," Hawco said. "No other member of the family has come forward to vigorously pursue such a claim. Whether there is a legitimate claim is yet to be determined."

Arliss Hughes, the Watchtower Society and the other defendants are pursuing an action to strike Lawrence Hughes' statement of claim, Hawco said, and are entitled to do so.

"Whether the claim is legitimate or not is a decision to be made by . . . this court on another day. 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."

(c) National Post 2005