Jehovah's Witness baby gets blood substitute

The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne/May 28, 2009

In a compromise designed to accommodate the beliefs of a Jehovah's Witness couple, Dupont Hospital will use a blood substitute on the couple's anemic baby while reserving the right to transfuse blood to save the baby girl's life, if necessary.

An Allen Superior Court order that the hospital requested last week to transfuse blood for the premature baby if needed was approved at a family court hearing, according to Lynn Vann, the minister for Pierre and Stephanie C. Binns, the parents of the baby girl born May 14.

The Binnses couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday, but on Tuesday, Stephanie Binns said she and her husband were following biblical passages forbidding ingesting blood. Genesis 9:4 of the Jehovah's Witnesses New World Translation of the Bible on its Web site says, "Only flesh with its soul - its blood - YOU must not eat."

In addition to having blood transfusions forbidden, members also do not carry weapons, salute the flag or participate in secular government. Members who do face excommunication.

Vann, who sat in on the hearing, said the baby, born prematurely at about 25 weeks, has responded well to the substitute. The substitute contains iron and procrit, a synthetic protein designed to increase red blood cells.

Vann said the substitute was developed by a Toledo doctor, who is a member of Jehovah's Witnesses. "We surely want the best medical care for our children, but we just want that without blood," Vann said.

While Jehovah's Witnesses believe they must obey God's laws over human laws, the Supreme Court disagrees. In the precedent-setting 1944 Prince v. Massachusetts decision, which involved a Jehovah's Witness, the court ruled that a child's welfare trumps the religious beliefs of the parents.

"The right to practice religion freely does not include the liberty to expose the community or child to communicable disease, or the latter to ill health or death," Judge Wiley B. Rutledge wrote in the majority opinion. "Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves, but it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion."

While courts have generally adhered to the Prince precedent in life-and-death cases, there have been exceptions. In 2007 in Seattle, Dennis Lindberg, a 14-year-old Jehovah's Witness, died of leukemia shortly after a judge ruled he had the right to decide for himself whether to refuse transfusions.

However, with advances in medical technology, courts are more frequently being asked to overrule the religious beliefs of parents when their children's health is at stake. "The medical line has moved in terms of limiting parental freedom because there's more we can do for the kids," said Indiana University law professor David Orentlicher, co-director of the university's center for law and health.

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