Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Which would pretty well sum up my reaction upon reading this article in today's edition of the Chronicle Herald which portended to delve into the "culture clash" between the Western world's child protection systems and various religious and cultural minorities. Due to the writer taking a major left turn halfway through the article.

After noting that "not one of the world’s major religions sanctions child abuse" [ED. A point open to debate - after all, if female genital mutilation isn't a form of child abuse, then what, pray tell, might be?], that "bridging the cultural gap in western countries would be easier if professionals, such as doctors who are compelled to report child abuse to the authorities, were exposed more often to people of diverse backgrounds", the reality that many medical graduates have never met a Muslim, a Sikh or a Sunni and that UNESCO reports some 250 million youngsters worldwide "suffer child abuse in the form of slavery, bondage, serfdom . . . child pornography, prostitution and yes, female genital mutilation", completely out of left field, at least for this reader, the article goes on to note that in Canada, "the biggest legal controversies involving child protection and religion have been well-publicized disputes involving Jehovah’s Witness families and their views on blood transfusion". According to Queen’s University law professor, Nicholas Bala.

My problem with this coverage of the fifth World Congress on Family Law and Children’s Rights in Halifax is the comparison of the issue of blood transfusions in Witness families and child abuse in any form, let alone slavery, bondage, serfdom, child pornography, prostitution and female genital mutilation.

As Mr. Bala rightfully notes, in cases of Witness children younger than age 12, the situation is generally pretty cut and dried - within a blink of the eye, the child is made a ward of the state, given a blood transfusion and then returned to their parents. Although this latter point he somehow neglects to mention. As these children become older (usually ages 12 to 16) and begin to articulate their own religious views, the courts are placed in the position of struggling with how much weight to give to the child’s wishes.

So tell me this, please - although I certainly make no argument against a valid interest in the state intervening if doctors feel a child needs life-saving medical treatment, is this really akin to child abuse?

Unfortunately, I know a fair bit about your more typical child abuse cases (leaving out of the discussion issues such as child slavery, bondage, serfdom, child pornography, prostitution and female genital mutilation for the moment) due to my regular reading and review of such legal decisions in my current work.

Two thoughts come to mind - first, I find it difficult to characterize a parent's refusal to provide consent to a blood transfusion for their child for religious reasons the same way as the horrific stories of neglect and abuse I regularly read and, secondly, trust me when I say that the children involved in such cases where abuse is found are rarely never simply thrown back into the offending parent's care, case closed, end of discussion. At least not these days. Not in this jurisdiction. If a child has been found to have been abused, they are not going back home without, at a minimum, supervision, follow up and the parents having participated in appropriate training and services.

And as far as comparing issues such as child slavery, bondage, serfdom, child pornography, prostitution and female genital mutilation to a parent's refusal of a blood transfusion for their child ... pulleaze. Give. Me. A. Break.

Granted, both child abuse and parental refusal to consent to medical treatment are child protection issues. But in my mind, to lump together child abuse (even in its more common forms of sexual, physical and mental abuse and neglect, let alone it's even more horrendous forms) with the issue of state intervention for children whose parents refuse to consent to a blood transfusion as done in this article is nothing if not disingenuous.

I also can't help but note the article's failure to make any mention of those cases where adult* Witnesses have had blood transfusions forced upon them agains their express wishes (to the extent of doctors tranquilizing patients against their wishes or even having them forcibly restrained). Which, while perhaps not technically relevant in a discussion of child protection issues, might be material in regards to full disclosure on the issue of the interaction between members of this particular religious sect and the medical profession around their medical care.

In the interests of full disclosure, although I most definitely am not a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses, I was raised as one and, as such, am quite familiar with both their beliefs and their history.

* See para 26 of the linked decision

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