Medical emergencies in children of orthodox Jehovah's Witness families: Three recent legal cases, ethical issues and proposals for management
Z Bodnaruk | WG How
To the Editors;
It would be unfortunate if the misinformation in Guichon and Mitchell's (1) paper impaired physician-patient relationships Jehovah's Witnesses seek to cultivate with caring doctors.
The authors advocate a practice to be applied only to Jehovah's Witnesses, which coerces them to accept blood transfusion by disparaging their religion. Physicians do not denigrate Catholicism to browbeat a Catholic patient into consenting to therapeutic abortion nor ridicule Judaism to coerce a Jewish adherent to accept porcine-derived products. The notion is repugnant to ethical physicians.
To the Editors;
Calgary bioethicists, Guichon and Mitchell (1), in their December 2006 article, mis-stated court rulings concerning three mature young women who refused blood transfusions.
'Case 1' concerned a 16.5-year-old leukemia patient. The authors omitted that the appeal judge had rejected the religious stereotype which they now urge on the medical community as 'dangerous' (2). They ignored the court decisions, which specified that the state-imposed treatment and 38 forced transfusions failed; the patient's cancer relapsed and the court determined that her case was medically hopeless (3). Guichon did not reveal that she assisted the father in his failed lawsuit against the patient's doctors, her mother, lawers and her church (4).
The authors respond;
Mr Bodnaruk misunderstands how paediatricians approach teenagers in providing care. When a teenager with Roman Catholic parents seeks reproductive advice, a paediatrician will discuss all medical options with the patient alone and without asking a priest to give advice on medical management.
Our cases dealt with life-saving medical treatment; transfusion was court-ordered. The judge in case 1 specifically found that, because of 'undue influence put upon her', the patient did not have adequate information and voluntariness to make decisions (1). We recommend that Jehovah Witnesses parents and their children have full information, both official Watchtower Society and alternative information (2), and should be free to choose medical treatment without sanction.