Canadian court rules transfusions can be forced on teens

Fri Jun 26, 2009 1:24pm EDT
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Manitoba social workers were right to force a Jehovah's Witness teenager to get a blood transfusion even though she said she felt it was like being raped, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on Friday.

It was already clear under Canadian court decisions that babies and young children could be forced to get transfusions when authorities deemed this was needed but this case revolved around whether "mature minors" could make up their own mind.

The girl, known as A.C., was almost 15 -- the law stipulates 16 as the age when independent decisions are allowed -- and argued that she knew what she was doing when she said she wanted to follow her religion and not take the blood.

She had suffered from internal bleeding, and child welfare authorities successfully got a court order to make her receive a transfusion against her will.

The court said authorities should take the views of mature minors into account but not let these views be paramount if the consequences of refusing blood would be catastrophic.

"It is a sliding scale of scrutiny, with the adolescent's views becoming increasingly determinative depending on his or her ability to exercise mature, independent judgment," Justice Rosalie Abella wrote for the majority.

But she added: "The more serious the nature of the decision, and the more severe its potential impact on the life or health of the child, the greater the degree of scrutiny that will be required."

Justice Ian Binnie wrote a strong dissent in the 6-1 decision. "Forced medical procedures must be one of the most egregious violations of a person's physical and psychological integrity," he said.

He said these could be justified if there were any doubt about her capacity to decide but three psychiatrists had concluded that she knew what she was doing.

(Reporting by Randall Palmer)