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Life on the Line: High Court's Critical Decision on Blood Transfusion


The following story comes from Ireland:

The man's family hopes that a transfusion will not be needed, and thanked the hospital for the care it is giving

The High Court has made orders allowing a hospital to give a blood transfusion, if necessary, to a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

The order was made by Mr Justice Tony O'Connor, who said that he accepted that the patient's life maybe "on the line", and that he may require a blood transfusion.

The judge said that, while he respected the religious beliefs the man holds, the court was satisfied that the man currently lacks the capacity to make an informed decision about the medical care he is being provided with.

The court also noted that no Advance Care Directive, which is a document held by members of the Jehovah's Witness faith stating that they are not to be given any blood or blood products under any circumstances, in relation to the man had been provided to the hospital.

If his situation deteriorated, the man may need a blood transfusion to either save his life or to avoid incurring any further injuries.

The judge said that it was accepted by the court that in the absence of the signed directive, the man's inability to consent to potential treatment and the hospital's constitutional legal obligations towards its patients, it was obliged to seek the orders in question.

The judge also added that the court was not making any judgement on any person's religious beliefs.

The patient, a young man who cannot be identified for legal reasons, is currently in an intensive care unit following a serious road traffic incident.

Those in charge of his care are hopeful that he will recover, but at present the man is on a ventilator, receives his medication through a tube, and is unable to communicate with anyone.

Donal McGuinness BL, for the hospital, said that, for religious reasons, the man's family were not prepared to consent to him being given any blood or blood products.

Counsel said that the man does not currently require a transfusion. However if his situation were to deteriorate, then such an action might be required to save his life or prevent further injury.

'Conflicting instructions'

Counsel said that the problem was complicated by the fact that following his admission to hospital, and once it was learned that he is a Jehovah's Witness, the man gave conflicting instructions about whether he would accept a blood transfusion.

Counsel said that the hospital accepts that, due to his injuries, the man lacks the mental capacity to either consent to or refuse such treatment.

Counsel said that a further complicating issue was that the hospital had been told by the man's family that he had signed a document stating that he would refuse a blood transfusion in all circumstances due to his religious beliefs.

However, that document could not be located by the man's family despite an extensive search, counsel said.

As a result, the hospital was seeking various orders including ones that would allow it to administer blood and blood products to the man, should the need arise.

The man's wife, while reaffirming their objections to blood transfusions on faith grounds, told the court that the family were not opposing the hospital's application.

The court heard that family hopes that the man's condition would improve to the degree that a transfusion would not be required.

The family also thanked the hospital for the treatment it has provided for him to date.

After granting the hospital the orders it sought, the judge said that the hospital could return to court and seek to discharge the order if the man's health improved to the degree that he regains capacity and is able to give clear instructions about his treatment.

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