Hospital allowed give girl transfusion against parents' wishes


A High Court judge has directed that a Dublin hospital can, provided it is absolutely necessary, give a possible life-saving blood transfusion to a four-year-old girl despite the religious objections of her Jehovah Witness parents.

The Dublin hospital made an emergency application to Ms Justice Mary Laffoy yesterday seeking an order allowing it administer a transfusion after the parents refused to give consent for a transfusion.

The court heard the child was admitted to the hospital last Sunday suffering from pneumonia and an x-ray had revealed she needed to have fluid drained from her lung. It was possible the draining procedure would lead to severe loss of blood and the child would then need to be transfused, the hospital claimed.

The parents, whose religion prohibits blood transfusions, had objected to any transfusion and the father had said he would go to court to stop it, it was stated.

The hospital then took its proceedings seeking permission for the transfusion.

After being told yesterday it was not necessary to go ahead immediately with the surgical procedure, Ms Justice Laffoy adjourned the application until today to allow the parents, who have two other children, address the court before any order was made.

Today, the mother of the child appeared in court accompanied by two Jehovah Witness members of a liaison committee with the hospital, which works with patients and their families in situations like this.

One of the committee members, Harry Homan, said while the mother did not wish to address the court, she wanted it to be known that she was very happy with the hospital’s treatment of her child but was objecting on deeply held religious grounds to a transfusion.

A consultant surgeon said a blood transfusion may not be necessary but it was his clinical opinion the option must be available before the surgical procedure of draining the child’s chest goes ahead.

This was particularly so because the child’s haemoglobin level was lower than normal which reduced her ability to fight infection, he said. The draining procedure was urgent as without it the child was likely to develop a more significant infection which would then require a more invasive procedure.

It was believed by all the doctors involved in the case the procedure could not go ahead without the back up of having a transfusion available, the consultant told the court.

Mr Homan, on behalf of the mother, asked the doctor to explore the possibility of using the hospital’s “cell salvage machine” to collect the child’s blood and re-use it.

The doctor said the hospital would do that if possible but, in this child’s case, it would not be possible to save all the red cells.

The court also heard that alternative synthetic products had been suggested but the doctor said these were “very much in the realms of experimental medicine” and not an alternative.

Ms Justice Laffoy said she was satisfied she had the power to make an order directing the hospital to provide all necessary care for the child including, if necessary, a blood transfusion but only where no other method is available and where the child requires medical intervention. “It is only if it is absolutely necessary”, the judge added.

Mr Homan, for the hospital liaison committee, asked the judge if it was possible for a protocol to be issued for dealing with cases like this because they were very upsetting for those involved.

The judge said she would leave that up to the hospitals and the Medical Council but hoped something could be worked out.