Witnesses stand by blood ban for BC sextuplet

Vancouver, Canada - The Jehovah's Witnesses national organization issued a statement Wednesday in an attempt to quell widespread media speculation about the medical treatment of sextuplets born prematurely to a woman at B.C. Women's Hospital.

''Discussions about treatment are private matters between the parents and their treating medical team,'' it reads.

The brief text states that church members are allowed to receive any modern medical intervention, except blood transfusions. Several alternative treatments have been employed successfully in the treatment of premature infants, it says, including minimizing blood sampling, and using the hormone erythropoietin and iron to stimulate production of red blood cells.

Neonatologists say blood transfusions are routine for infants of 25-week gestational age. Transfusions are used to treat anemia and jaundice and may also be needed because premature babies have very low blood volume and hospital staff need to draw blood regularly to monitor the infants' health.

The Jehovah's Witnesses statement was released after front-page stories in national and Vancouver newspapers Wednesday indicating the issue of the babies' treatment may end up in court because of the blood-transfusion ban.

Church spokesman Mark Ruge said the statement was issued as a response to the stories, and that it's premature to speculate about the need for medical and legal intervention.

''It is important for the media and others to avoid making stereotypical assumptions regarding Jehovah's Witnesses,'' the statement said.

It also quotes from a 2004 ruling by the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench that it says directs governments and the courts to avoid the assumption that ''the doctor has always recommended the only acceptable treatment'' and that patients are ''always wrong'' to refuse transfusions.

Matt Gordon, spokesman for the Ministry of Children and Family Development, would not say whether the ministry has had any contact with staff or administrators at B.C. Women's Hospital about the sextuplets. But he said that if health care workers believe a child's health is at risk because a parent has refused to consent to treatment recommended by a doctor, they have a legal duty tell a child protection worker.

At that point, he said, the ministry would take steps to ensure a child's safety, which might include seeking a court order to allow treatment or, in cases where quick action is needed to preserve life or prevent permanent harm, taking immediate temporary custody of the child.

The B.C. government has previously used the courts to attempt to force minors to undergo potentially life-saving procedures.

A Jehovah's Witness teenager was ordered by the B.C. Supreme Court to undergo blood transfusions as part of her cancer treatment in 2005. The court said that because the girl, then 14, was a minor, she could not refuse transfusions if doctors deemed them medically necessary.

She fled to Ontario and eventually received bloodless treatment in New York after the B.C. government negotiated a deal with her family for her transfer to Schneider Children's Hospital, which specializes in ''blood avoidance'' treatment.