Baby given transfusion after court order


A LIFE-SAVING blood transfusion was administered to a critically ill baby under a court order secured by a Dublin hospital at a late-night hearing in a High Court judge’s home.

The child’s parents, members of the Jehovah Witness faith objected on religious grounds to the procedure.

The baby boy, who became very unwell on Christmas Day and whose condition continued to deteriorate, received the transfusion shortly after a hearing which concluded at 2.30am on December 27th in Mr Justice Gerard Hogan’s home, the judge said yesterday.

The child’s condition had improved since and he was no longer critically ill, the court heard.

Mr Justice Hogan yesterday outlined his reasons for granting the Children’s University Hospital at Temple Street, Dublin, an order allowing the transfusion. He also made orders preventing identification of the child.

While conscious of the constitutional requirement that justice be administered in public, save in exceptional circumstances as prescribed by law, he said a public hearing was impossible in the circumstances of this case but he was delivering judgment in open court.

The baby boy was born in autumn 2010 but his twin sister died. The boy became very unwell due to acute bronchiolitis on Christmas Day and, at one point, he stopped breathing and had to be resuscitated. He also had a hypoxic episode – a period of low oxygenation – which had “potentially ominous implications”.

The baby was transferred from another hospital to Temple Street early on December 26th and his situation was critical early that evening. Already with low haemoglobin, he experienced a further drop in the level of haemoglobin which significantly hindered his body’s capacity to deliver oxygen to his vital organs and maintain normal neurological functions. Evidence was given that his liver was somewhat distended.

By 9pm on December 26th, a transfusion was “absolutely necessary”. The child’s parents, as committed Jehovah Witnesses, completely opposed a transfusion, although they had consented to the use of certain blood products earlier that day.

The hospital decided to seek a court order allowing it to administer a transfusion and an emergency hearing was held in the judge’s house at 1am on December 27th, concluding at 2.30am.

Doctors told the judge the baby’s life was in danger and there was no medical alternative. The parents told him they wanted the best for their child but, on religious grounds, they could not consent to a transfusion.

The court had previously sanctioned a transfusion for another child of the parents and they seemed resigned it would order one, the judge noted. The parents struck him as “wholesome and upright” and most anxious for their child’s welfare yet steadfast in their religious beliefs.

The Constitution guaranteed freedom of conscience and the free practice of religion, Mr Justice Hogan added. It also gave parents the right to raise their children by reference to their own religious and philosophical views but that right was not absolute.

The State had a vital interest in ensuring that children were protected which could prevail even in the face of express and fundamental constitutional rights, he said.