A 10-month old baby with Stage 4 cancer will receive potentially life-saving care after a New Zealand court ruled that the baby’s parents may not stop doctors from giving the baby a blood transfusion.
The baby’s parents practice the Jehovah’s Witness religion, which forbids its adherents from giving or receiving blood. Jehovah’s Witnesses, contrary to widely held misconception, may receive medical care. But because the Bible, as they interpret it, prohibits consuming blood, their care must not involve blood transfusions.
According to the Jehovah’s Witness web site, “we go to doctors who have skill in providing medical and surgical care without blood... In fact, bloodless treatments developed to help Witness patients are now being used to benefit all in the community.”
Doctors in Auckland, New Zealand treating the baby don't see it that way. They told Chief High Court Judge Helen Winkelmann that the baby, identified in court records only as “A,” needs surgery to remove a large tumor in her chest as well as extensive chemotherapy. Those treatments cannot be administered, they say, without the availability of blood transfusions.
The judge was told that without treatment, the infant will die “within weeks or months.”
With treatment, however, the child has a 90-percent chance of survival, doctors told the court.
"We are a people who absolutely love life in every way, but we don't believe it's life at any cost," said a spokesperson for the Jehovah’s Witness church, George Gray.
When the baby was admitted to Starship Hospital in Auckland for a biopsy, she was discovered to have a perilously low red blood cel count. Doctors at that time administered a transfusion without the parents’ approval, deeming the situation an emergency.
The child’s parents have agreed to the chemotherapy and surgery. Only the blood transfusion poses a roadblock.
Winkelmann, while keeping the parents as the baby’s guardians for purposes of the chemo and surgery, took away their guardianship of their daughter with regard to blood transfusions.
Doctors now have the legal authority to make that decision, giving “A” a good chance to live.