The Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation is now considering taking legal action against either the state or the Coombe maternity hospital in Dublin over the transfusion.
The congregation says the woman’s husband, who arrived in Ireland from the Democratic Republic of Congo recently, visited the Coombe shortly after noon on Thursday with an “elder” from their church.
The decision to go ahead with the procedure followed an emergency sitting of the High Court. At the end of this, Justice Henry Abbott ruled that the hospital had the right to intervene because the new-born baby would have “no person in this country, as far as is known, to look after its welfare” if the mother died.
The woman, identified as Ms K, does not speak English and communicated with hospital staff in French. She is said to have been initially reluctant to name her husband as next of kin because of fears over the legality of his presence in the country. The hospital did not learn of his existence until he tried to gain access to the ward where his wife was being treated prior to the transfusion.
Requested to present identification by a nurse, Mr K asked a colleague to obtain documentation from his home but the transfusion went ahead before he could convince hospital authorities of his identity as the woman’s
next of kin.
One legal source said that the presence of the woman’s husband in the hospital at the time of the transfusion could have implications if the Witnesses mount a legal challenge.
It has also emerged that the woman, who was a patient at the Mater Hospital before being transferred to the Coombe, physically resisted the transfusion and was sedated after a struggle. Later in her recovery she removed a drip containing saline solution from her arm, believing that it contained blood.
A spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses said the woman furnished hospital staff with a signed advanced-directive card, which Witnesses carry to alert medical staff that their religion precludes them from having blood transfusions. The card usually contains details of a Jehovah Witness’s next of kin.
Sources at the Coombe said that Ms K’s religion had been noted as Roman Catholic when she was admitted.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have more than 5,000 members in Ireland, is now seeking to determine if the patient’s constitutional rights were breached. “We’ve been waiting for a case like this in Ireland for quite some time,” said their spokesperson.
“No matter which way you look at this case, the patient’s rights have been trampled on. There could be a civil case taken on behalf of the mother, or a community case on behalf of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Adrian Lawlor, who oversees the Swords branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses, said the case had thrown the rights of the individual “back into the Dark Ages”. The group has likened the act to rape.
– Four Dangers of the Jehovah’s Witness Organization
“The full implications of this are only beginning to dawn on us. We’ve been down this road before with minors, but the idea of an adult being forced to have a blood transfusion is new. It’s scary stuff and the High Court has taken an extreme measure,” Lawlor said.
The 23-year-old woman, who is now said to be well, suffered massive blood loss after giving birth to her first child, a healthy baby boy, at the Coombe on Thursday. Chris Fitzpatrick, the hospital’s master, rushed the case to the High Court after she refused a transfusion. The judge ruled that Fitzpatrick’s staff could restrain the mother if she physically attempted to prevent doctors administering the blood.
Lawlor said a care plan was faxed to the hospital on Thursday afternoon outlining the alternative treatments that could be applied.
These include the use of non-blood products, which are in use in some American clinics, he said. “Saline solution is sometimes used to keep arteries open, and erythropoietin, a glycoprotein hormone, is used because it accelerates haemoglobin recovery.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs are based on a literal reading of the bible. They believe that taking blood into the body through the mouth or veins violates God’s laws and they put the use of blood products on a par with fornication, strangulation and sacrificial ceremonies.
In 2002, the group considered suing the state on behalf of the parents of a child who was given a blood transfusion. The two-year-old was injured after a car crashed through a garden wall as he played at his home in Clonmel. The group argued that the constitutional rights of the parents as legal guardians were ignored during the incident.