7 Dec 2010

Court orders blood transfusion for 10-year-old Australian boy against religious objections of his Jehovah's Witness parents

AdelaideNow - Australia June 4, 2010

Court orders Jehovah's Witness boy be given blood transfusion

by Sean Fewster | AdelaideNow

A HOSPITAL has won the right to give a child potentially life-saving blood transfusions despite the religious objections of the boy and his family.

In a South Australian legal first, the Supreme Court this afternoon gave the Women's and Children's Hospital the right to give a 10-year-old boy - a member of the Jehovah's Witness faith - transfusions as part of his cancer treatment.

The decision, in line with similar rulings from around the world, paves the way for hospitals to take action in future debates with religious parents.

The boy is suffering from an aggressive form of cancer that doctors fear will spread throughout his entire body if not treated with an intense 39-week regime of chemotherapy and surgery.

The speed of that process will not allow his blood cells time to regenerate, meaning he will require transfusions so that the chemotherapy can continue unabated.

In a statement read to the court, the boy said transfusions carried spiritual consequences.

"The doctors have told me I might die and I don't want to - but I don't want blood," he said.

"The blood will change me... when you take blood, you are taking someone else's life.

"I really don't want this and my heart is ripping apart."

On May 10, doctors discovered a tumour in his left leg.

He commenced treatment and has so far had four weeks of chemotherapy.

He is due for more on Monday but, when doctors said he may need a blood transfusion as well, the family objected.

In the Jehovah's Witness faith, transfusions are not permitted because of a Bible verse that says one must "abandon from blood" to "keep well".

The hospital asked the court invoke its power of parens patriae - to look after those incapable of doing so - and over-rule the family's objections.

Today, pediatrician Tamas Revesz, told the court the regime was "the gold standard" and had a 70 per cent survival rate.

Other options, such as amputation, had a 30 per cent survival rate.

"This is a disease that is otherwise universally fatal," he said.

"The longer we delay, the chance of survival decreases considerably and the chance the disease will come back and be untreatable increases."

The boy's father said the application felt like "an unwanted attack" on his family's beliefs.

"I love my son, I love him more than I love myself," he said.

"If the court orders a transfusion, I will love him the same as before, and I will follow the law.

"But my son will suffer emotional and spiritual consequences for the rest of his life... he will always, in his own head, be unhappy."

In his statement, the boy said he feared a transfusion would "make the Creator unhappy".

"If I listen to my Creator then there will be a Paradise, which is like a new life," he said.

"If I die, I will get another chance of living.

"But I still want to live now because I'm finding my life really good and I'm liking it."

In his ruling, Justice Richard White said the boy's parents were "loving and caring" and had their son's "best interests at heart".

He said it was important to consider the boy's religious beliefs and attitude toward transfusions.

"Whilst I respect the religious beliefs of the boy and his family, and the strength of their faith and convictions, I am satisfied it is in his best interests to receive transfusions," he said.

"He otherwise risks the grave consequence... of a painful death within a matter of weeks or months."

The Women's and Children's Hospital did not seek to recover its legal costs.

The parents declined to comment outside court.

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