Doctors can ignore 'deeply-held views' of two Jehovah's Witnesses to treat their burns victim son

A health trust with responsibility for treating the boy, who suffered severe burns in an accident, is told it can ignore religious objections from his parents

The Telegraph, UK/December 8, 2014

A High Court judge has ruled that the son of two devout Jehovah's Witnesses can be given a blood transfusion despite religious objections from his parents.

Mr Justice Moylan was told by doctors that the "very young" boy had suffered severe burns in an accident and might need a blood transfusion.

The judge concluded that a blood transfusion would be in the youngster's best interests in spite of the "deeply-held views" of his mother and father.

Detail of the decision has emerged in a written ruling by the judge following a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London.

The judge said a health trust with responsibility for treating the boy had asked for a ruling.

He did not name anyone involved and did not give the child's age.

Mr Justice Moylan said he hoped that the boy's parents would understand.

"I am extremely grateful to (the boy's) father for so clearly and calmly explaining to me the position held by himself and (the boy's) mother," said the judge.

"I have no doubt at all that they love their son dearly. I also have no doubt that they object to the receipt by (their son) of a blood transfusion because of their devout beliefs.

"I hope they will understand why I have reached the decision which I have, governed as it is by (their son's) welfare."

Two other High Court judges had been asked to consider similar issues earlier this year.

Mr Justice Keehan gave permission for a baby boy to undergo blood transfusions during an operation, notwithstanding his parents' objections.

He had been told by a specialist that the baby had complex heart disease and no "long-term prospect of survival" if he did not have cardiac surgery.

The baby's parents had agreed to surgery but said they could not consent to their son, who is a few weeks old, receiving blood.

But Mr Justice Keehan concluded that receiving blood was in the little boy's best interests, despite his parents' "understandable objections".

The judge did not identify the little boy but said doctors at the Birmingham Children's Hospital had applied for an order that surgery could proceed with blood transfusions.

But Mr Justice Peter Jackson gave doctors permission not to administer blood transfusions to a 63-year-old woman who was a Jehovah's Witness.

The woman had subsequently died.

Doctors working for Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust had asked for permission to withhold a blood transfusion.

They said the woman, who had been a Jehovah's Witness since the 1970s at least and had a history of depression and paranoid schizophrenia, was "gravely ill".

Mr Justice Peter Jackson said that when doctors made the application the woman had "clearly lacked" the mental capacity to make or communicate decisions about treatment.

But the judge said that after being admitted to hospital the woman had been "adamant" that she did not want treatment with any blood products.

He concluded that the woman had made a decision, when she had the mental capacity, that doctors rightly considered had to be respected.

The judge said the human right to life was "fundamental" but not absolute. He said there was no obligation on a patient to accept life-saving treatment and doctors were not entitled or obliged to give treatment.

Jehovah's Witnesses say their attitude to blood stems from Biblical teaching.

"Both the Old and New Testaments clearly command us to abstain from blood," says the religion's website "God views blood as representing life. So we avoid taking blood not only in obedience to God but also out of respect for him as the Giver of life."

The website highlights a number of Biblical references, including passages in Genesis, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Acts.

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