Baby dies after parents refuse treatment for religious reason

Deccan Herald, India/December 13, 2010

Seoul - A 2-month-old infant born with heart defects died after her parents, members of Jehovah's Witness, refused to allow surgery since their faith prohibits blood transfusions, hospital officials said.

The baby, identified by her surname, Lee, was born in August with a congenital heart disease. Doctors at the Seoul Asan Hospital, where she was first admitted, concluded that she needed surgery, but her parents refused to give permission, according to the officials.

Hospital officials, ethics teams and lawyers sought and won a court order in October allowing doctors to override the parents' objections and perform the surgery, but the parents refused to comply and transferred their child to another hospital, whose name was withheld. The hospital claimed succeeding in performing the same kind of surgery without a blood transfusion.

The baby died less than a week after she was moved. "Even if I go back to that time again, I would insist on surgery without a blood transfusion," the mother said. "As a parent, I am sorry and sad that I had her born with an illness."

The case is likely to spark a debate over whether parents have the right to refuse medical treatment based on their religious beliefs.

"We may have to look closely into the facts, but there is a possibility that the baby's parents could be subject to charges of neglect if they knew the refusal of surgery would lead to their daughter's death," a senior judge at a Seoul court said, asking for anonymity.

In a 1980 ruling, the Supreme Court found a mother guilty of neglect leading to death after her 11-year-old daughter, suffering from serious intestinal hemorrhages, died because she refused to allow a blood transfusion.

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