Medicine, religion clash at Bronx hospital: Patient's family members are Jehovah's Witnesses

New York Daily News/June 2, 2010

A Bronx woman with internal bleeding was on the verge of death, and doctors wanted to save her with a transfusion.

The only problem was the incapacitated patient's family wouldn't allow it because they are Jehovah's Witnesses who believe her fate is in God's hands.

The clash of modern medicine and religion led doctors at St. Barnabas Hospital to rush into court for an emergency order - granted Tuesday by Judge Faviola Soto.

"The attending physician felt it was urgent that if she didn't get a transfusion, she would die," said St. Barnabas spokesman Steven Clark. "Hopefully, the patient will be okay now."

The patient, Jean Leslie, 55, is a stroke victim who had been living in the St. Barnabas Nursing Home since 2008.

She was admitted to the hospital on May 21 when doctors noticed a problem with some blood tests, according to court papers. Dr. Edgar Pimentel believed Leslie was suffering from internal bleeding and asked a gastroenterologist to perform a colonoscopy - but her mother wouldn't allow it.

"Ossien Leslie has refused consent on the grounds that God alone and prayer will save her daughter," the hospital wrote.

St. Barnabas filed emergency papers on Friday, declaring that Leslie needs the colonoscopy and a life-saving blood transfusion before June 2. Clark said it was the first time the hospital has had to go to court for an emergency medical hearing in at least eight years.

Although her mother and sister Sharon are devout Witnesses, the hospital said the patient's religious beliefs are unknown.

Jean Leslie is conscious "but unable to conduct a conversation, and most of her speech is limited to short outbursts of vulgarities," according to court papers.

Efforts to reach Ossien and Sharon Leslie were unsuccessful.

According to the Jehovah's Witnesses' Web site, the religion bars blood transfusions because of a biblical command that Christians must "abstain from... blood."

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