Judge rules against Jehovah’s Witness
Despite his mother’s objections, a High Court judge has ruled that seriously ill teenager can be treated with blood products
Mr Justice Cobb said the 13-year-old boy’s mother was a Jehovah’s Witness and was not “happy”.
The judge gave medics permission to administer “plasma exchange treatment” after concluding that without it the youngster’s prospects of recovery were slight.
Detail of the case has emerged in a written ruling by Mr Justice Cobb following a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court.
The judge had been asked to make a decision by specialists treating the boy. He did not identify anyone involved.
This treatment is … controversial in this case because the mother is a Jehovah’s Witness and finds herself unable, by virtue of her religious principles, to consent to this treatment.
Without this treatment, the prospects for (the boy) of recovering very much from where he currently lies is slight.
Based on their interpretation of biblical commandments against ingesting blood, Jehovah’s Witnesses reject blood transfusions and the use of other products derived from blood.
According to the Reasoning with Jehovah’s Witnesses blog, The Watchtower Society’s requirement that Jehovah’s Witnesses must refuse to accept blood transfusions dates back to 1945.
Misinterpreting the Old Testament prohibition against eating animal blood as a routine food item, the Watchtower Society began teaching that receiving a blood transfusion was “eating human blood”. The Watchtower teaches Jehovah’s Witnesses to believe that receiving an infusion of human blood into their body’s circulatory system is the exact same thing as eating or ingesting blood into their body’s digestive system.
Justice Cobb’s ruling follows a similar ruling by Justice Keehan in February that a seriously ill new-born should receive surgery, including any necessary blood transfusions, at University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire. In this case the parents – both Jehovah’s Witnesses – refused to consent to the treatment on religious grounds but did not take any active steps to prevent the ruling.
According to a National Secular Society report, Dr Antony Lempert, Chair of the Secular Medical Forum (SMF), said:
This case is another example of the serious risks faced by some children born into families where religious dogma is given greater respect than essential medical care for the children in the family.
The judge was quite right to overrule the religious objection raised by this boy’s mother but wrong to collude with the myth that the mother was ‘unable’ to give her consent. The lack of consent was a choice made by the mother; a choice for which she should be held as accountable as other parents who choose to harm their children for whatever reason.
The fact that religion may sometimes be seen as an excuse for allowing harm to one’s children has been recognised by the doctors’ regulatory body, the GMC in its 2012 guidance. This GMC guidance states that: ‘In some cases it may be difficult to identify where parents’ freedom to bring up their children in line with their religious and cultural practices or beliefs becomes a cause for concern about a child’s or young person’s physical or emotional well-being’.
The SMF supports parents who wish to make reasonable decisions about their child’s upbringing and supports competent adults who wish to make major decisions about their own treatment.
However, there should be no confusion that adults should not have the right to procure dangerous treatments for, or to withhold necessary treatments from children, including their own. Irrespective of culture of origin, all children should be appropriately protected from the dangerous expression of other people’s beliefs until such time as they are old enough to make their own decisions.
From reports it appears that this 13 year-old child was able to indicate that he wanted active treatment to save his life. It is very sad that his own mother refused to give consent to his potentially life-saving treatment and justified that refusal on the basis of her own religious beliefs and dogma.