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Fri, August 27, 2004

Lawsuit targets church

Cancer victim's dad claims Jehovah's Witnesses contributed to death

Jehovah's Witness members used the fear of damnation in Armageddon to convince a young leukemia victim to shun blood transfusions, a lawsuit claims. And the influence exerted on Bethany Hughes by her mother and other Jehovah's Witnesses directly led to her death two years ago, the court action alleges.

The lawsuit, launched by the Calgary teen's father, Lawrence Hughes, on behalf of himself and her estate, seeks damages of nearly $1 million.

The claim -- a copy of which was obtained yesterday by the Sun -- names the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Canada and several Witnesses as defendants.

Also named is the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton and doctors there who treated Bethany up to the time of her Sept. 5, 2002, death.

"The Watch Tower defendants committed the (civil wrongs) of deceit and undue influence, all of which contributed to and led to the circumstances causing the death of Bethany," it says.

"By prayer service and other means, (they) actively encouraged Bethany to not question her faith."

Among the beliefs she was encouraged not to reflect upon was that "it was against God's law to take a blood transfusion and that if she did, that she would perish in Armageddon."

Bethany, then 16, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia on Feb. 13, 2002, and doctors recommended chemotherapy supported by blood transfusions.

Because the teen's mother, Arliss Hughes, would not consent to the treatment, a court order was granted allowing doctors to commence the transfusions.

But society members, including lawyers David Gnam and Shane Brady, who fought the court order, tried to convince Bethany to fight the transfusions, the claim alleges.

"All overtly influenced Bethany to believe that the blood transfusions were wrong and would not help cure her cancer," it states.

"These defendants misled Bethany by intentionally misstating to her that her treatment protocol was experimental when in fact it was not."

After her July 15, 2002, release from Alberta Children's Hospital Bethany was secretly moved to the Cross Cancer Institute where she received a non-transfusion regimen, the suit claims.

She died from congestive heart failure caused by a lack of healthy blood, it says.

Statements of defence to the unproven allegations have not yet been filed.

Lawyer Vaughn Marshall, who filed the lawsuit Wednesday, declined comment until after the defendants have been served and had a chance to see the claim.

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