Doctors Get Way on Transfusion For Witness Boy

The West Australian (Perth)/December 21, 1993

AUCKLAND: A rare court decision has cleared the way for a three-year-old New Zealand boy to have a lifesaving heart operation, despite his Jehovah's Witness parents' opposition to blood transfusions.

Justice Robertson, in the High Court, has made the boy a ward of the court for the three days needed for the operation and post-operative care.

The boy, from South Auckland, was due to have the operation to repair a hole in his heart this week but his doctors wanted their legal position clarified before proceeding.

The surgeon due to perform the operation, Alan Kerr, was made an agent of the court, empowered to administer a transfusion in circumstances in which a person's life was threatened.

Lawyer Tony Christiansen, for Green Lane Hospital, said that without a court order overriding the parents' opposition to a blood transfusion, the doctors might face assault charges and the hospital might lay itself open to being sued for damages.

"The child will die unless he gets this operation very soon," he said.

The parents' lawyer, Warren Cathcart, and their main concern came from passages in the Bible which they believed prohibited blood transfusions.

The second concern was that blood transfusions carried an unacceptable risk of transmission of diseases such as hepatitis.

The parents did not oppose the operation as such, and held Mr. Kerr in high esteem.

"They are very loving and caring parents," Mr. Cathcart said.

"Like any normal parents, they want the best possible care that their children can get."

"They simply say that in the case of this particular type they have made a choice for non-blood medical techniques."

Mr. Christiansen said it was planned to perform an operation which would correct the boy's condition until he was legally old enough to decide for himself whether to have an operation where the likelihood of blood transfusions would be greater.

"There is a 98 per cent chance in this case that blood won't be needed, that is how small the risk is," he said.

"But the doctors are not prepared to go in to bat, as it were, even with that small amount of risk,"

He said there was no doubt the operation was needed quickly.

"The child's health has deteriorated in recent months, and from Mr. Kerr's point of view we have got to do something very much sooner than later," he said.

"He talks about two or three weeks."

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