CARSON CITY — The Nevada Supreme Court has been asked to decide if Valley Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas was wrong in giving a blood transfusion to a critically ill baby against the religious beliefs of the baby’s parents, who are Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Nancy Savage, attorney for the hospital, told the court Thursday that an emergency situation existed for the premature infant that was born weighing 2 pounds, 11 ounces.
It administered a blood transfusion and then asked a judge if the hospital could be named temporary guardian of the child and his twin brother so they might administer further blood transfusions.
Jason and Rebecca Soto refused to give permission for the transfusion and were never notified the hospital was going to court to get an ex-parte order giving it temporary guardianship over the two children.
Donald Ridley, attorney for the Sotos, argued the hospital had no right to seek a guardianship.
“These kids had guardians,” he said. “The issue was making the appropriate decision for health care.”
Ridley, of Pawling, N. Y., said the hospital, if it was concerned, should have notified Child Protective Services, which could have acted as a “buffer” between the hospital and the parents. The twins, born in June 2001, are now doing fine, the court was told.
The Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a friend of the court brief that said the religion has no objections to conventional medicine and they do not believe in or practice faith healing. Attorney Jerry Mowbray said the Witnesses obey a scriptural directive to “Keep abstaining from blood.”
Mowbray, in his brief, urged the court to show “respect for parental child rearing authority and for religious freedom.”
Rebecca Soto, the mother, checked into the hospital nearly a month before the birth, which was considered high risk. One of the twins weighed 4 pounds, 13 ounces at birth; the smaller twin was born apparently stillborn but later recovered a heartbeat.
The hospital decided the smaller baby needed a transfusion; the parents believed a transfusion was not needed.
After the transfusion was performed, the hospital filed a court petition asking to be named temporary guardian of both children, which was granted.
The Sotos were not notified until the next day of the court order.
Two days later Family Court Judge Gerald Hardcastle agreed to extend the hospital’s temporary guardianship of the smaller boy for 30 days but did not allow it for the bigger boy. No transfusions were given during the 30 days. The Sotos were represented at that hearing.
Ridley argued that the hospital received the guardianship after the transfusion to protect itself from liability.
Savage said this was an emergency situation and “that’s why the hospital got the guardianship.”
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