February 4, 2007

Why BC was right to seize Jehovah's Witnesses babies

There is a high-profile case currently making news in Canada involving a Jehovah's Witnesses family whose three infants were seized by the government of British Columbia so that they could be given potentially life saving blood transfusions. The babies are three of four surviving sextuplets born in early January. The case raises a number of issues, including the limits to religious freedoms, the obligations of parents and the state, and the right to refuse medical treatment.

It is my opinion that the BC government acted appropriately and with complete justification; they were forced to act a) as a result of the parents' gross negligence -- religiously influenced or otherwise, and b) on behalf of the infants who were in need of state protection.

At a peripheral level, the issue is of significance to the therapy versus enhancement debate. Given changing conceptions of normal human functioning and health, it is an open question as to whether future interventions (such as the elimination of genetic disorders) should become mandatory, or if parents should be given the option to refuse treatment.

Before I get into my analysis, however, here is a run-down of what has transpired in BC thus far:

The events

Canada's first sextuplets were born in early January and that was in and of itself big news. The babies, four boys and two girls, were delivered after only 25 to 26 weeks of gestation -- one naturally and the rest via Caesarean -- and each weighed less than 2 pounds each.

They were smaller than an adult hand and were immediately placed in intensive care where they were listed under fair condition. Their vital signs were stable and within normal limits, but because they were born so premature, they were initially given an 80% probability of surviving. Preemies have underdeveloped organs and immune systems which make them more vulnerable to infection.

One baby died days after birth, and then another in the following weeks. The surviving four babies were clinging to life.

The sextuplets were born to Jehovah's Witnesses, a Protestant Christian sect that forbids blood transfusions and organ transplants. It is not uncommon for preemies to undergo blood transfusions; they tend to suffer from low hemoglobin and experience blood loss as a consequence of frequent blood tests.

Instead, the parents insisted on alternative measures including careful attention to minimal blood sampling, clinical acceptance of lower hemoglobin levels, use of erythropoietin and iron to stimulate natural production of red blood cells and other medical procedures.

Concerned about the surviving infants, the provincial government began to scramble and mobilize for more drastic action. On 29-January, under Section 29 of the "Child, Family and Community Service Act," and with the support of the Supreme Court, the government took temporary custody of one infant to allow for what was deemed an essential blood transfusion.

On the next day the Ministry of Children and Family Development asked the parents for permission to perform a blood transfusion on a second infant, but they received no response. The second child was taken into protective custody and given a blood transfusion. According to the father, he "could not bear to be at the hospital when they were violating [his] little girl." He complained that it was unfair of the ministry to label them as unfit because they "choose alternative medical treatments to blood transfusions."

Eventually the third baby was taken to the hospital, with the fourth remaining under the parents' guardianship. The Vancouver parents are now in a legal battle with the province, claiming the government violated their religious freedoms.

Religious freedoms

This case is an excellent example of why there needs to be a clear delineation between the church and state. Religious injunctions often contribute to poor and ill informed decisions. The state, on the other hand, can remain impartial and perform due diligence on matters of religious consequence. It is for this reason that I have also argued for the separation of church and bioethics.

The parents, who are clearly very happy to be parents and who claim to be looking out for their children's best interests, are refusing to allow treatment on nonsensical grounds. Scriptural or aesthetic justifications that inhibit life saving interventions are arbitrary and negligent at best (I say arbitrary because the mother utilized fertility treatments to help her get pregnant).

In our liberal democracies, the right to practice religion is largely a policy of tolerance. Citizens are given the benefit of the doubt in free societies to worship as they see fit. But it is a freedom that is endured so long as the social contract is maintained. One cannot break the law and decry that their religious freedoms have been violated. It is for this very reason, for example, that Sharia law will not be introduced in Canada despite pressure to do so.

The BC government did what they needed to do. Moreover, it is their responsibility to intervene in cases such as these. This is why we have governments. The parents made an extremely poor and dangerous decision on behalf of their children who were in no position to offer protest or defend themselves.

Parental obligations

But where do we draw the line? Is it merely life saving interventions that need to be enforced? Will enhancement technologies change this situation?

Like blood transfusions, future technologies will change expectations about what can and should be done. Access to genetic technologies, for example, may one day result in mandatory therapies that eliminate genetic disorders. This practice may become so standard and accepted that failure to do so may eventually be considered abusive.

There's the further risk that children born with preventable conditions will sue their parents for failing to intervene when they could have done so.

Consequently, the state will likely establish a minimum set of mandatory therapies. Creating such a list will not be easy, as there will forever be disagreement as to what constitutes a 'disorder' and how to discern the line between therapy and enhancement. This will become all the more complicated when traits that come about via enhancement start to normalize to the point where the absence of such endowments prevent an individual from partaking in society in the same way that the lack of an education and illiteracy does today.

These are not easy decisions, but neither is the choice to become a parent. Prospective parents must realize that the decision to have children comes with a requisite set of obligations. They need to ensure as is most reasonably possible that their children be given all the benefits that health technologies can bring so that they may live healthy, full, and open-ended lives.

The right to decline treatment

This case also raises the issue of the 'right' to decline treatment. The Jehovah's Witnesses parents, who were acting on behalf of their infants, claimed not only that their religious freedoms had been violated, but that they were unjustifiably prevented from using alternative therapies.

There are two things to consider here.

First, with two babies already dead and another 4 clinging to life, the decision to seize the children and force blood transfusions was not made lightly. The doctors chose to err on the side of caution as failure to act could have resulted in their deaths. Severe cases are not a time to experiment with alternative therapies. Moreover, aside from hurt religious sensibilities, the blood transfusions did not cause any harm.

The second issue is more complex as it deals with informed consent and the right to refuse treatment. As a supporter of voluntary euthanasia and alternative medicines, I believe that citizens deserve the right to manage their health in the best way they see fit (self-injury is a related issue, but one that falls outside the bounds of this particular post). Consequently, an adult Jehovah's Witness has the right to refuse a blood transfusion -- even if it is a foolish decision.

As for children, society is set-up such that parents make critical decisions on their behalf until they reach the age of consent. In this sense, children are a special class of citizens. They don't have the full spectrum of privileges that adults have -- for example they cannot vote or drink alcohol.

At the same time children also have special protections. The state, in conjunction with children's aid societies, are within their bounds to take a child into protective custody when the parents have been declared unfit. Parents have the authority to make decisions for their kids by default, but that privilege can be taken away from them when necessary.

In the case of the BC sextuplets, the decision to withhold treatment was tantamount to negligence and even abuse. Had the babies died as a consequence of insufficient treatment, the province would have been within their bounds to charge the parents with child abuse causing death and possibly even homicide. The rationale behind the parents' inaction makes no difference, whether it be instigated by religion, mental illness, or alcohol.

Closing notes

I am certain that the parents' decision to withhold treatment was an extremely difficult one and that this is a very trying time for them. It may take some time before they achieve any sense of normalcy again. They will have deal with the fact that their children were given blood transfusions and move on. I certainly hope that they will not look at their infants as being any less special. Moreover, I hope that their community will not shun them out like they have done to others in similar cases.

I also hope that when all is said and done that the parents will look back one day and be grateful that action was taken to save the lives of their children.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post ... one quibble: Jehovah's Witnesses aren't really Protestant Christians.

Like the Mormons, I think they'd best be described as non-mainstream Christians or something like that.

Anne Corwin said...

Wow. I can't even fathom how a parent could be so wrapped up in religious dogma so as to consider adherence to that dogma more important than their child's very life or health.

As far as enhancements go, some biological enhancements already exist -- take vaccinations, for instance, which augment the immune system.

Certain pseudoscience-believing fringe groups notwithstanding, most people today generally believe that vaccinations are a good idea.

And the scientific support for the benefits of vaccination is strong enough such that schools more often than not require children to be vaccinated prior to enrollment.

This is a definite case in which an enhancement has been "normalized", and it's likely that it's only the first of many (I'm sure that if a cancer vaccine were developed, parents who did not provide their child with it would be scorned at the very least!).

glitteringspear said...

What does the name of their religion have to do with it? The Bible says it is abomination for blood of one person to touch the blood of another, or for us to injest the blood of an animal: for the life is in the blood. The blood of an individual has antibodies in it from every virus and every disease with which it has made contact-and through many studies of HIV and AIDS, doctors can tell you that injesting someone elses blood through the veins or digestive tract is fastest way to spread disease. If we eat the flesh of a sick cow or shicken or turkey, it is possible for us to come down sick, because of it. Just read the laws of cleanliness in Leviticus concerning how not to spread leprosy or other contagious diseases, and it should be enough to teach you not to injest someone else`s blood. HUsbands are not supposed to have sex with their wives will they are menstuating, or after they`ve given birth to a child. If that is abomination to God, and an unhealthy practice (to have sex at such a time), then it surely is wrong to ingest blood of someone else`s in your veins for any reason! Leviticus 7:26; 17:10,11. My father-in-law died from an allergic reaction to a blood transfusion, when the doctors had given him a good prognosis to live, after a surgery for ulcers of the stomach. If you don`t obey what God says in his laws of cleanliness and diet and morality, then you`re no Christian in the first place! Jesus said, (speaking of what God has said to us through his law and the prophets): Man shall not live by bread alone, but by EVERY WORD which proceedeth out of the mouth of God, Matthew 4:4. Paul M.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Paul, you seem to be conflating two issues:

1) whether blood transfusion is moral; and

2) whether blood transfusion is safe

Your objection isn't really that blood can spread disease: if it was, then you would change your mind if transfusion was demonstrated to be safe.

Anonymous said...

you assert that Jehovah's Witnesses do not accept organ transplants. This is factually incorrect. It is left to each one to make their own choice in this matter.

Anonymous said...

I find it very interesting to have read this today. I am one of Jehovah's Witnesses and am of the same belief that blood transfusions are wrong.

I detest that you have stated that blood transfusions are "life saving treatments" because in many cases when a blood transfusions has been given, the patient hasn't lived.

There was another case in Calgary AB that still gets brought up. She was a friend of mine, diagnosed with Leukiemia, old enough to make the decision on her own, considered a mature minor by the province. Her father however chose to take it to the courts of Alberta and asked them to force the tranfusions upon her. He won, but lost, she died.

There's no proof that in every case a blood transfusion will work. There are many cases in which non-witnesses have taken the name of our religion just so they don't have to deal with the politics of having one. As witnesses, people have the choice to accept certain treatments that include blood derivatives that will improve ones health if their life is in danger. Also, your comment about Witnesses not being allowed to give or take organ transplants is untrue, and is actually left up to their own conscience decision.

I find it disgusting that you think that Jehovah's Witnesses would disown the parents, because the decision for the infants to have blood transfusions was not theirs, that choice was taken away from them. The children will also be cared for, loved and cherished just as they were before, but because of the beliefs of witnesses they themselves may feel the stress of having had the tranfusions later in life, not from those around them but because of what they will learn from the Bible about why we are not supposed to take them.

It's interesting that people have such high opinions and strong comments towards witnesses when it comes to their beliefs but if the infants die, even with the transfusions, which is still highly possible, nothing will be said against the gov't or those that agree with what decisions that were made.

Instead of following the lead of the majority, maybe people should allow others, no matter their religious demonination, live their lives reguardless what that entails, or how others view it.

Anonymous said...

Watchtower gospel of gobbledygook

The blood transfusion issue is still a hot item, even though the Watchtower has practically allowed all 'parts' of the blood individually, just not together!

Doesn't the Bible clearly state to "pour ALL the blood onto the ground and cover it with dust because to Jehovah the life blood belongs"?

So, how can the Watchtower leaders allow most of the parts of blood which they euphemistically call "blood fractions" YET forbid "whole blood"?

Isn't it all sacred to Jehovah,or is this a legal ruse to keep from being sued?

(I will be cursed by God for eating a whole ham sandwich but if I eat the bun,mayo,mustard,cheese,ham,pickle separately it's o-kay today.)

Remember thousands of devout obedient Jehovah's Witnesses have DIED for this blood stance.

The entire doctrine is senseless and deadly.

The Bible says nothing about blood transfusions. They didn't exist when the Old Testament and Acts were written. The Bible passages in question (kosher law) have to do with diet. Neither the Jews nor other groups oppose blood transfusions because they don't try to put a spin on something that isn't there. If the Watchtower had not issued this prohibition, no Jehovah's Witness would oppose them on Biblical grounds.

Go to Israel and try and find a super observant Orthodox Jew or Rabbi who believes that blood transfusions are against God's Law given to Moses.You can't.

Danny Haszard

Anonymous said...

It's very strange that the Watchtower Society chooses to observe only one of many kosher laws (eating blood) and still, it can't get this one right either. Why don't JWs follow all the other kosher laws in the Hebrew Scriptures?

Nothing can be worse than a religion that forces you to let your children DIE in the name of the Lord.

Anonymous said...

ANONYMOUS doesn't write like the kind of person who would fit the mold of a loving parent. You fit the profile of a JW who has not learned to think for himself, but has allowed so-called 'elders' to show him the way. NONE OF JW ELDERS can claim any mastery of the Hebrew language, let alone a proper understanding of the laws that God set forth in the Hebrew scriptures. Yet, these are the same individuals who waste our time by knocking on our doors to teach what they don't know. You lost your humanity and are not worthy of holding a Bible open in front of someone else. THE GREATEST THING ANY MAN CAN DO IS SAVE ANOTHER HUMAN LIFE YOU FOOLS!

Anonymous said...

The following website summarizes over 200 similar court cases involving Jehovah's Witness Parents who refuse life-saving blood transfusions for their children:



Anonymous said...

The Danny Haszard Cult now has a few followers.
Danny has adopted the universal cult-leader stance of presenting himself as both a victim, and a type of
savior showing the way to salvation. He is of course successful with only those who reject an honest
investigation and give themselves over to the control and teachings of someone who teaches hate.
These traits, of being a victim and a leader intensely interested in saving others, are of course at the very
essence of Cults and their delusional leaders.
Though offering a pretense of help, however, his offering lacks conciliatory and genuine assistance to
Jehovah's Witnesses, fellow "victims" for whom surely he must hold some kind of good intent.... But, no,
he sadly and pathetically just tries to create separation and anger, tries to divide families, tries to destroy
happiness, and teaches a withdrawing from and a rejection of the accepted freedoms of speech of our
He suppresses the truth in favor of his own vitriolic hate. His efforts are reflective of a perception of
personal grandeur and a fixation on his own self-worth.
Also a trait of Cult leaders, Danny lacks the fortitude and purpose in life to accomplish good for himself
and others without needing the adulation of others he can dupe. Cult leaders need to build their own self
-esteem and to feed their own personal aggrandisement, and to strengthen their own wobbly beliefs by
grasping for the approval of followers. Anger is so often a front for fear and weakness. It is the weak
person, usually accompanied by weak reasoning, who turns from truth and uses anger and fear as a
motivator. Those similarly inclined or susceptible become followers of cult leaders like Danny Haszard.
He has actually made himself more of a slave to the Watchtower than he ever was as a member - he is
addicted to his fears and anger, addicted to attacking, delusional as to the success of his efforts to tear
down the faith of others, and uses hate as a tool to appeal to those similarly lacking in faith, or honesty, or
dignity, or self-worth, or personal esteem.
Remarkably his entire purpose in life in now linked to a preoccupation with the Watchtower.
This cultish behavior includes efforts to drawing off a following for himself....He has set himself up as an
authority figure who works hard to attract followers.
This is the new Danny Haszard Cult.

Anonymous said...



Who's Danny Haszard?

Stalking Jehovah's Witnesses trolls just eaten up with jealousy over Danny Haszard

Troll flamebaiters--Your notions though many are not worth a penny When it gets down to facts, the apologist does not respond back, everything about the Jehovah's Witnesses troll is deception because you are a supremacist cult who feel no need to be truthful with unbelievers who are all,"gonna die at armageddon anyway".

Anonymous said...

Up close and personal Jehovah's Witnesses can be wolves in sheep's clothing.

Think about this-When the devil comes knocking on your door he may not have the 'dark goth look'.They could be smartly dressed and wielding the Christian Bible.

I have Jehovah's Witnesses family in the USA who practice the Watchtower JW enforced ritual shunning that i have not seen or heard from in 15 years.

The central core dogma of the Watchtower is Jesus second coming (invisibly) in 1914 and is a lie.Jehovah's Witnesses are a spin-off of the man made Millerite movement of 1840.

A destructive cult of false teachings, that frequently result in spiritual and psychological abuse, as well as needless deaths (bogus blood transfusion ban).

Yes,you can 'check out anytime you want but you can never leave',because they can and will hold your family hostage.

The world has the Internet now,and there are tens of thousands of pages up from disgruntled ex-Jehovah's Witnesses like myself who have been abused by the Watchtower cult.

Jehovah's Witnesses are often a mouth that prays a hand that kills.The Watchtower is a truly Orwellian world.

10 Million EX-JW now

There are now twice as many former Jehovah's Witnesses as there are active ones with 13,000 leaving every month.

Learn the truth about the "troof"

Danny Haszard Jehovah's Witness X 33 years and 3rd generation http://www.freeminds.org

Anonymous said...

The day is comming when the Watchtower will make the entire issue a "conscience matter" for the individual "christian."

They can't do it overnight or they will be sued to high heaven.

Back in 1988, as a JW, no blood meant, NO BLOOD. Now, it means any number of things depending upon which "fraction" one is discussing.

Gal 5:18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.


Anonymous said...

The Jehovah's Witnesses have settled lawsuits alleging church policies protected pedophile men who sexually abused children for many years.

The victims were required to sign gag orders to prevent them from saying anything about the money or more importantly about their abusers. Yet more importantly the court documents that were part of the five year legal battle shows exactly what despicable sinks of debauchery that supposed leaders and elders of Jehovah's Witnesses will go to in order to protect pedophiles.

The written record is incriminating and shows the cover up, protection and enabling of Jehovah's Witness child molesters around the world.

Anonymous said...

Jehovah's Witnesses are a dangerous cult. Google "Emma Gough" if you don't think refusing a blood transfusion when needed can cost you your eternal life. She was a healthly, young women who all agreed would have lived if she had had a blood transfusion. JWs are stupid people that you can't reason with. I could write volumes on their dumb beliefs and prophesies that have failed. The JWs won't tell you about their failed prophesies unless you do your own research. If they're wrong on everything else, what good reason do you think they're right about refusing necessary medical attention? If doesn't follow; they are wrong on the blood transfusion ban for no reason. The ban is bogus and has cost people their lives unnecessarily!!!