Chilliwack (Vancouver Sun) – The parents of a severely disabled baby on life support are seeking joint custody of their daughter so they can make decisions about her health care, including using cannabis oil to treat her seizures.
Chilliwack couple Justin Pierce and Michelle Arnold, both 21, were back in B.C. Supreme Court Thursday after winning an injunction last week to stop the baby’s guardians — the Fraser Valley Aboriginal Children and Family Services Society — from taking nearly five-month old Mary Jane Pierce off a ventilator.
While the society argues with baby’s condition has worsened and she is suffering from multiple seizures up to 25 minutes long, the parents contend that their daughter has shown signs of improvement using cannabis oil therapy and that there is hope for her life.
Penny Washington, a lawyer for BC Women’s Hospital, where Mary Jane is being cared for, argues that keeping her alive is becoming “inconsistent with human dignity.”
Mary Jane, who suffers multiple serious health problems, was due to be moved from BC Women’s Hospital to Canuck Place last Tuesday, where she would have been taken off a ventilator with the intent to let her die a natural death.
However, in a last minute decision, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jon Sigurdson allowed a temporary injunction to stop the transfer and to keep the infant on a ventilator.
On Friday, Sigurdson determined that the case should be heard at the provincial court, and directed the lawyers to seek an emergency one-day hearing for either Sept. 15 or 16. He agreed with both sides that there was some urgency in the case because of the girl’s deteriorating health.
The couple’s lawyer Jack Hittrich said his clients, who lost guardianship when Mary Jane was born premature at 25 weeks on April 5, have never agreed to allow their baby to be taken off life support. The Ministry of Children and Family Development were the initial guardians, but it was later passed to the society because of the family’s aboriginal background.
Pierce and Arnold signed a temporary custody order last Friday, but HIttrich said they were pressured into it by the ministry.
“We are very disappointed in the way the ministry has handled this entire case,” he said, outside court on Friday, adding that the judge who signed the order for the baby to be taken to Canuck Place wasn’t aware of all the facts.
“My clients felt like they were bullied into signing a consent order. It should have been made clear that what they were talking about was terminating this child’s life.”
Les MacDonald, the lawyer for the society, declined to comment on the case.
However in court, he told Sigurdson that the society is prepared to accept keeping the baby on life support for now. But he argued that Mary Jane’s health is deteriorating and that they may reach a point where the taking the baby off life support is in the best interest of the child.
Mary Jane was born premature at 25 weeks on April 5. She has cerebral palsy and constant seizures, and has suffered multiple complications from meningitis.
Washington told Sigurdson that Mary Jane now requires a “cascade of intervention” that is becoming a burden, causing blood vessels to break down, leading to severe pain.
“The child is on multiple medications,” she said. “In my view, it is becoming inconsistent with human dignity … that calls out for a move to comfort care.”
Hittrich has brought an application seeking broader involvement in Mary Jane’s care, including the right to use cannabis oil. If the provincial judge agreed, it would essentially mean that the parents would share joint guardianship with the society in making decisions about the baby’s health.
The hospital last week was allowing Pierce and Arnold to administer three doses a day of 200 mL of cannabis oil to help with her seizures. Cannabis oil contains high amounts of cannabidiol, or CBD, one of the main ingredients in marijuana, which has almost no psychoactive ingredients. In some cases, patients have claimed the oil significantly reduces seizures.
However, according to Hittrich, one of the social workers decided it was not appropriate to use the oil because the hospital allegedly said it may be causing her harm.
Wiping away tears, Arnold said outside court Friday that she wanted medical tests done to prove either way whether the cannabis oil is working.
“They didn’t do any tests while she was on the CBD oil. so what we need to look at is another trial and doing tests to see how she does while on this trial. We need to stand up and try to get the government to say ‘yes this is appropriate, to at least try it.”
Justin Pierce said the number and severity of seizures increased when they stopped giving her cannabis oil. Both Pierce and Arnold have epilepsy and say cannabis oil has been successful in stopping their seizures.