Ethicist slams forced transfusions

EDMONTON — An Edmonton-area woman should not have been compelled to have a blood transfusion when she was 16, a prominent medical expert says.

The court-ordered transfusion contradicted a key principle of the medical ethics that guide Canadian doctors, bioethicist Dr. Paul Byrne said in an affidavit filed with the Supreme Court.

“The entire provision of health care in our society is based on the concept of informed consent,” says the University of Alberta professor who teaches ethics to medical students.

This applies to capable minors as well as adults and doctors should consider overruling patients only where there is clear evidence a patient lacks the ability to make decisions, Byrne said.

“Many competent patients refuse life-saving treatment for all kinds of reasons and medical doctors must ethically abide by these patients’ wishes.”


The Supreme Court decides which cases it reviews and lawyers for Candice Unland expect to hear, as early as this week, if the court will hear her appeal.

Unland, a Jehovah’s Witness who turns 21 next month, spoke out publicly for the first time this weekend.

Unland, who lives in Morinville, north of Edmonton, said nobody listened to her when she was 16 and refused to have a transfusion. She believes the Bible does not allow one person to take blood from another and also because she did not want to catch a blood-borne disease such as hepatitis.

She said she is also speaking out for fellow Jehovah’s Witness Bethany Hughes, a Calgary resident who died of leukemia last year at 17 after an unsuccessful court battle to refuse the 38 transfusions she received as part of her cancer treatment.

Byrne said the Unland and Hughes cases have confused doctors and undermined the trust doctors must win from their patients.

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Canadian Press, Canada
Aug. 25, 2003

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday August 25, 2003.
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