A ‘Fugitive Tot’ Escapes Unwanted Treatment
By “Awake!” correspondent in Canada
WHEN two-year-old Amy’s fever persisted, her concerned parents decided to have her checked by the family doctor. What thus began as a routine visit soon exploded into a bizarre episode that saw little Amy unbelievably branded a fugitive and the object of a frantic international search.
Her fever apparently was caused by spherocytosis, an abnormal blood condition that can impede growth or activities, depending on its severity.
Amy was already recovering from her fever when her parents, Robert and Sherry Bryant, kept the appointment on January 25, 1980. Their family physician in Owen Sound, Ontario, called in a local pediatrician for consultation.
However, this was not the first time she was before this pediatrician. When just three days old an exchange transfusion had been forced on Amy by the same pediatrician. He had used a court order obtained under Ontario’s Child Welfare Act to treat the newborn’s jaundice with blood transfusions, even though there are alternative treatments for the ailment that she had.
Her parents, who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, had objected because blood therapy violates God’s command to ‘abstain from blood.’ (Acts 15:20) The pediatrician had ignored the parents’ protests.
Robert and Sherry Bryant were determined not to let blood be forced on their daughter again.
Yet, again, the same pediatrician immediately began to talk about a blood transfusion and said that if her condition did not improve soon he would get a court order to enforce it. Amy’s father got the doctor to hold off so the parents could seek alternate medical treatment at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. The doctor replied that he would notify the Toronto hospital. At the same time he advised the parents that the hospital also might order a blood transfusion for the child.
Amy continued to improve. Her parents decided the trip to the Toronto hospital wasn’t necessary after all—a decision that they, as responsible parents, had the right to make.
But when the pediatrician learned that Amy did not show up at the Toronto hospital, he moved to have the Ontario Children’s Aid Society seize the little girl and obtain a court order to force blood transfusions on her.
Avoiding Unwanted Treatment
Amy’s parents, exercising their parental rights, took her away so that unwanted treatment would not be forced. However, by the doctor’s high-handed action, they now were denied the right to seek another medical opinion openly. If they showed themselves in public, Amy would be wrenched from their custody and turned over for a forced transfusion.
Without so much as a hearing, a family court judge issued a warrant to police and the Children’s Aid Society for Amy’s capture. On January 30, newspaper headlines blazed: “Missing Girl, 2, Could Die Without Blood Transfusion.” Stories carried the pediatrician’s dire prediction that Amy might die in three to five days if she didn’t get a blood transfusion!
The warrant for Amy’s apprehension was communicated across Canada and to points along the United States border. Newspapers said police in New York State had joined in the “Desperate Search for Hidden Tot.”
While police, Children’s Aid officials and reporters scrambled around in their frantic search, Amy’s family life was turned upside down. Her father left his job to protect Amy, with no assurance his job would be waiting for him when the drama was over. Amy and her parents had to leave home and stay out of contact with their relatives and closest friends. Through it all, her parents obtained medical advice and kept Amy thriving on love, rest and a healthful diet.
At times Amy thought she was on vacation. But it was no vacation for her parents!
Dishonest Medical Practice?
After 10 days, police reported that searches of homes of the Bryants’ friends had “yielded no clues.” Reporters were following the story like bloodhounds on the trail of a criminal.
But then the story took an unexpected turn. A few days after issuing the warrant, doctors and officials pressing for Amy’s capture admitted “there is an alternative treatment”—something they didn’t reveal until after the family fled the threat to their child.
The contradictions had started. Could Amy live without a blood transfusion after all?
On February 5, the Toronto Star quoted Dr. Peter McClure, chief hematologist at the Hospital for Sick Children, as saying he hoped Amy could make a “spontaneous recovery” without blood transfusions. On February 6, the same newspaper claimed that Dr. McClure had said that most patients with spherocytosis could recover on their own without the aid of transfusions.
Had certain doctors and public officials been less than honest about Amy’s case?
Doctors now were disagreeing over her case in the public press! Surely it was time to call off the hunt and let Amy’s parents seek alternate treatment, if, in fact, she needed medical treatment at all.
Besides, the family’s lawyer assured everyone that Amy was “very well” and “showing fine improvement.” But none of this satisfied the Children’s Aid officials, who refused to call off their ‘tot-hunt.’
By now Amy’s parents were tired of hiding and sick of the unnecessary harassment. So, on February 8, their lawyer released photographs of a radiantly healthy Amy, smiling and happily bundled in her winter play clothes.
This time the Toronto Star headlined: “Amy’s fine, lawyer says.”
Officials still would not call off their hunt. With the warrant out for Amy’s capture, her parents knew that if they came out of hiding even to have a doctor publicly verify her good health they would run the risk of losing her to the police and the Children’s Aid Society.
On February 12, Amy’s parents called reporters and photographers from two Toronto newspapers to a home where they “brought her out of hiding briefly today in an attempt to prove she’s all right.”
The news flashed across the country: “Amy out of hiding to prove she can live without transfusions.” Amy’s picture appeared in several newspapers—a beautiful little girl with a mildly quizzical expression. She and her story often made the front page.
The Toronto Star said she toddled around the apartment while her parents invited a reporter and photographer to admire her vigor. Her temperature, appearance and energy were back to normal.
“The day she was supposed to have died (about two weeks ago) she was the healthiest she had been in weeks,” her father said.
Yet, as the Toronto Star reported the next day, “Little Amy Bryant is still a fugitive.” With Amy now in her third week of protective hiding, the Children’s Aid Society was in the embarrassing position of stubbornly holding on to a warrant issued on the false claim that Amy might die without a blood transfusion.
The “hunt for the hidden tot” had become a witch-hunt. As Amy’s lawyer said in the press: “This is religious persecution under the pretence of child care. [The officials] only did it [issued the warrant] because they [the parents] are Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Finally, the police and the Children’s Aid officials were ready to call a truce. Continuing a major search for a child publicly known to be in good health was making the searchers look a bit ridiculous.
A Toronto pediatrician examined Amy and reported “no abnormal findings.” “She’s in no danger, and no crisis.” The doctor’s report was made public, and the warrant for Amy’s detainment was dropped.
Once again, the news was flashed across Canada: “Little Amy comes out of the cold.” “Amy ‘in no danger,’ search is off.”
The date was February 14. After three weeks less one day, Amy was going home. As the Bryants put their lives back in order, the news media and others pondered the terrible injustice that had been suffered by a responsible, loving family and their innocent little girl.
Why Did It Happen?
On February 25, a Canadian Press story and picture of bright-eyed Amy warmly hugging her happy parents were sent to news media in Canada. The Kitchener-Waterloo Record gave the story this headline: “MDs Question Transfusions After Tot in Hiding Survives.”
The story was based on an article that appeared a day earlier in the Toronto Star. It had carried the headline: “Bloodless surgery: A trend against transfusions.” The Star article asked: “Do Jehovah’s Witnesses really risk their own lives, and their children’s, by refusing blood transfusions? There is growing evidence that they aren’t taking as big a risk as society and doctors have assumed.” It then cited medical doctors from Toronto, New York, Chicago, Michigan and California to prove its point.
The story confirmed what Amy’s father had said all along: “As far as we’re concerned, blood is bad medicine. . . . It’s not what the Creator advises and many medical men question its use as well.”
If the doctors, Children’s Aid Society and the Ontario Child Welfare Act, however well intentioned, had only respected the Bryants’ informed position in the first place, the regrettable three-week chase never would have happened. Instead, doctors and officials ran roughshod over parental authority and resorted to a provincial law that prejudices the rights of parents who disagree with a popular medical opinion. Because the parents disagreed with one doctor—a hired medical consultant—their daughter was declared by a judge, who issued a warrant without a hearing, to be in need of “protection.”
Happily, little Amy emerged unharmed, illustrating that medical opinions, however sincerely held, should not be used as a basis for scare tactics in an attempt to usurp parental authority over a two-year-old toddler!
Amy’s lawyer had charged: “When you get doctors practicing law and judges practicing medicine, the result can be nothing but trouble.” This entire unfortunate episode could have been avoided if those involved had heeded the balanced counsel of the late Dr. A. D. Kelly, former secretary of the Canadian Medical Association:
“Patients and parents have a perfect right to accept or reject treatment offered. No doctor can be positive that a person will die if he doesn’t get a transfusion or live if he does. . . . The principle is an important one relating to the liberty of citizens. The same thing applies to any other medical treatment, and right or wrong, people have a right to decide.”