DUBLIN, Ireland — In a legal first for Ireland, a hospital performed a life-saving blood transfusion Thursday night on a woman who had rejected the procedure on religious grounds.
High Court Justice Henry Abbott ruled that doctors at Dublin ’s Coombe Hospital should be permitted to perform a transfusion on the woman, a 23-year-old immigrant from the Congo who had just given birth to a healthy boy. The woman was identified as a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian sect which believes that the Bible forbids transfusions.
Lawyers for the hospital conceded that the woman — who suffered a hemorrhage and lost most of her blood supply Thursday morning before being stabilized — was cognizant and, if carried by stretcher into the courtroom, would have testified that her faith prevented her from receiving a transfusion.
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But Abbott said Ireland’s constitution required that precedence be given to the welfare of the woman’s newborn child. He said to refuse the transfusion would deny the child a mother, who was identified in court only as “Ms. K.” The judge noted that the woman had no other known relatives or close friends who could raise the baby if she died.
The Coombe, one of Ireland’s major maternity hospitals, said its policy was to do all it could to save a patient’s life — and to go to court if necessary to do it.
“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,” the Coombe said in a statement.
Abbott’s ruling was the first time in Ireland that a judge overruled an adult’s clearly stated wishes to refuse medical treatment on religious grounds. But other judges previously have overruled Jehovah’s Witnesses on the question of performing transfusions on their children.
In 2004, a judge overruled a Jehovah’s Witness who did not want her 5-month-old daughter to undergo open-heart surgery. The court on that occasion declared the infant a ward of court, effectively becoming its legal guardian, and the baby’s life was saved through the operation.
And in 2000, when a Jehovah’s Witness couple refused to permit a transfusion for their 2-year-old boy, police intervened and had him declared a ward of the local health authority. The boy, who had suffered serious crush injuries when a wall fell on him, was saved.