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B.C. parents seeking court order to treat severely ill baby with cannabis oil

Four-and-a-half-month-old Mary Jane Pierce is shown in this undated family handout photo. A British Columbia couple who say their lives were saved by cannabis oil are fighting for the right to treat their severely ill baby with the substance.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - American Academy of Dermatology
August 22, 2015 - 7:00 AM

VANCOUVER - Michelle Arnold says she's seen cannabis oil save two lives — hers and her husband's.

Now, she's fighting for the chance to see if it can save her four-and-a-half-month-old daughter, who is clinging to life in a Vancouver hospital.

"I can't just give up when I've seen hope," Arnold said tearfully outside B.C. Supreme Court on Friday.

"If there is a medicine out there ... that can help her, that can make her my child, then I will do it. I will do whatever I can to give it to her."

Arnold and her husband Justin Pierce are both 21 and suffer from epilepsy, for which they take cannabis oil. They are seeking a court order to gain more control over medical decisions in the care of their baby.

The couple wants doctors to resume treating her with cannabis oil — even though a lawyer for B.C. Women's Hospital said it might have worsened her symptoms.

Mary Jane Pierce was born premature at 25 weeks and has been in hospital ever since with serious health problems including brain bleeding, cerebral palsy and severe seizures.

The Chilliwack couple alleges the Ministry of Children and Family Development pressured them into giving it temporary custody about two weeks ago and moved to remove the baby's ventilator soon after.

A judge granted a temporary injunction last week to keep the child on life support, and at a hearing on Friday the ministry agreed not to take her off the machine without the couple's consent or another court order.

The parents are set to return to court next month to seek greater control of their daughter's care.

Pierce said doctors recently stopped administering the oil to Mary Jane, even though he claims an ingredient in marijuana — cannabidiol or CBD — was helping to control her seizures.

"She definitely was a lot happier," he said. "Now since being off of it, she's definitely going back ... into the condition where she looks almost as she did right before we gave her the oil."

Arnold said she's had other premature babies who have died in hospital and she believes this time her daughter could be saved by cannabis oil.

However, Penny Washington, a lawyer for B.C. Women's Hospital, told court that the oil had either no effect or increased the girl's seizures. Although it wouldn't "actively harm" her, it had no benefit, she said.

The extensive medical treatment is taking a toll on Mary Jane, she added.

"Although the team does say it's impossible to state definitively that the child is in pain, because the child is on multiple medications that are suppressing her pain, it is certainly clear from the records that there's discomfort," Washington said.

"In my view, it's becoming inconsistent with human dignity."

But Arnold and Pierce's lawyer, Jack Hittrich, said his clients deserve to make that choice. He said the ministry threatened to seize any kids they had in the future if they didn't agree to a temporary custody order.

"What the ministry was looking at was terminating this child's life. That is ultimately the biggest decision that any guardian or caregiver can make," he said outside court.

"For them to have proceeded in the very expedited and rushed fashion is quite reprehensible."

The ministry said it could not comment for privacy reasons, but social workers must provide detailed reasons and medical records when deciding to remove a child from a parent's care.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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