The High Court in Ireland has intervened to save the life of a seriously ill African woman by ordering a Dublin hospital to give her a life-saving blood transfusion.
The 23-year-old Congolese woman, who suffered a major haemorrhage today after giving birth to a healthy baby boy, had refused the treatment on religious grounds because she is a Jehovah’s Witness.
Believed to be the first case of its kind involving an adult in Ireland, the court ruled the Coombe Hospital must put the interests of the child first and save the mother`s life.
It is understood she had lost 80% of her blood.
A spokesman for the Coombe Hospital confirmed doctors had been ordered to act in the best interests of the mother.
The woman, known only as Ms K, gave birth to her son this morning but fell seriously ill after suffering massive bleeding. The baby was described as being “in good shape”.
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The court was told doctors at the Coombe respected the woman`s ethical reasons for refusing the treatment but that there was a probability she would die in a matter of hours unless the transfusion was carried out.
Lawyers for the hospital also asked the court to authorise a number of associated medical procedures.
Ewen Watt, a member of the Watch Tower organisation for Jehovah`s Witnesses in Ireland, said blood transfusions were a matter for individuals.
“That is a personal decision for each individual Christian to make. Each one of the Jehovah`s Witnesses would have to make a decision with regard to that,” he said.
And while he said he was not aware of the specific case, Mr Watt insisted it was common practice for a Jehovah`s Witness to outline to doctors what treatment they would accept before going into hospital.
“The whole ethical position has been settled many years ago. Paediatricians, surgeons and doctors have a booklet with regard to what treatments can be carried out.
“And they recognise the right to bodily integrity.”
Mr Watt added: “I`m very puzzled by the judgment.”
The Coombe Hospital refused to comment on the specific case but issued a statement saying: “The Coombe Women`s Hospital is committed to act in the best interests of its patients at all times.
“In the event of a patient refusing medical treatment and where the case is deemed to be life-threatening, it is the policy of the hospital to seek legal advice and in some cases this may lead to court proceedings.
“In the event of the proceedings being deemed appropriate, the hospital is obliged to follow any order which the court may make.”
– Four Dangers of the Jehovah’s Witness Organization
Jehovah`s Witnesses do not accept blood transfusions because the Bible said it was wrong. They believe there are a number of references in the Old and New Testaments supporting their view and it has nothing to do with the risks involved in taking blood.
Mr Justice Henry Abbott ruled that doctors must intervene in the interests of the child.
The judge said he accepted Ms K was compos mentis and if brought to court on a stretcher she would oppose the application.
But he told the court he felt it necessary to override her religious beliefs on the grounds that her baby boy had no other relatives, or guardians, that were known of in the state.
Mr Justice Abbott said the interests of the child were paramount and that he must err on the side of preserving life.
Arguments over whether the transfusion should be given could be heard at a later date, he added.
A similar order has been made in respect of a child by the Irish High Court. In 2004, a judge made a six-month-old baby a ward of court to overrule its Jehovah`s Witness mother`s objections to blood transfusions. The baby`s life was saved through open-heart surgery.
And in 2002, a High Court judge ruled that a student must be given a vital transfusion after she slipped into a coma while wavering over whether to accept the treatment.