Dramatic court hearing held in judges home during early hours

Independent, Ireland/January 13, 2011

A judge ordered the baby son of a Jehovah Witness couple to be given a life-saving blood transfusion after a dramatic court hearing in his home in the early hours of the morning.

Judge Gerard Hogan said barristers for Temple Street Children's Hospital arrived at his house at 1am on December 27 and argued the desperately ill three-month-old boy needed urgent treatment.

Neither the infant nor his parents were identified in the High Court judgment, which was published today.

Judge Hogan ruled that while parents have the constitutional right to raise their children to their own religious and philosophical views, the State has a vital interest in ensuring children are protected.

"But there is absolutely no doubt but that the court can intervene in a case such as this where the child's life, general welfare and other vital interests are at stake," he added.

Judge Hogan heard that when the baby boy was born in September 2010 he had been a twin, with a sister who did not survive.

On Christmas Day the infant was suffering from acute bronchiolitis when his condition deteriorated. At one point he stopped breathing and had to be resuscitated.

He was transferred to Temple Street the following day where his condition became critical. His liver was distended and by that evening his haemoglobin level plummeted to the point where a transfusion was necessary.

The judge said while the boy's parents were clearly anxious for his welfare and had allowed the use of blood products earlier that day, as committed Jehovah Witnesses they were steadfast in their opposition to this procedure.

The hospital made contact with the court's duty register at 10pm that night and the High Court hearing was swiftly arranged.

Consultant Dr Kevin Carson, clinical director of intensive care, argued the youngster's life was in danger and there were no medical alternatives to a transfusion.

The parents were not legally represented at the judge's house, but were aware of the issues as the court had previously sanctioned a blood transfusion for another child of theirs.

Judge Hogan continued: "There is no doubt as to the sincerity of the religious beliefs of the parents.

"They struck me as wholesome and upright parents who were most anxious for the welfare of their child, yet steadfast in their own religious beliefs. An abhorrence of the administration of a blood transfusion is integral to those beliefs."

Judge Hogan said on conclusion of the hearing at 2.30am, he indicated he would grant the orders sought but would deliver his reasons in open court.

"Given the time constraints, the time of year and the fact that the application had to be heard in the early hours of the morning, I concluded that the most practicable venue for the hearing was in my own private residence," he added.

"In passing, I should also add that a further consideration in that regard was that heavy snowfalls had blanketed the Dublin region, making travel at that time very difficult."

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