Jehovah’s Witness parents refuse blood transfusion despite court order

The Post, South Africa/November 2, 2018

By Jolene Marriah-Mharaj

Durban -- A Durban Jehovah’s Witness couple who were challenged in court by the KZN Health MEC after they refused to allow their chronically ill son to have a blood transfusion because of religious reasons, are adamant they will not back down.
This despite a high court order instructing that the 5-year-old, who suffers from sickle cell anaemia be given the blood transfusion if necessary.

Durban High Court Judge Graham Lopes granted the order on Friday evening.

The couple, who are hearing impaired, spoke to POST through their translator, Silas Ngetar.

Ngetar said despite the court order, the boy had not been given the transfusion.

He had since been discharged from hospital and was recovering at home.

The couple, he said, believed in an alternate medical approach.

“The child was given an alternative medical treatment which raised his oxygen levels in his blood from 3.2 to over 8. As we speak his oxygen levels are 8.2.

“The normal count is between 10 and 12. For the parents, this proves that alternatives do work,” said Ngetar.

He said the parents’ decision was based not on cowardice but on biblical principles.

“This was evident in the fact that while they did not want the blood transfusion, they found a medical alternative.”

The urgent application was brought on September 28 by Dr Noxolo Mbadi, head of Paediatrics at Addington Hospital, and KZN Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo, 10 days after the child was admitted to hospital.

At the time an interim order was granted and was finalised on Friday. In her affidavit, Dr Mbadi described sickle cell anaemia as an abnormality of the red blood cells which contain haemoglobin that transports oxygen in the blood.

She said the boy was admitted to hospital on September 17 and his haemoglobin count was 3.4.

Mbadi described the child’s levels as “way below” the normal count and said that if he did not receive a blood transfusion, he could suffer a stroke or die.

She said that through their interpreter, the parents were advised on the necessity of the blood transfusion.

However, they refused consent.

“They in fact advised that even if the minor child dies there shall be no claim against the hospital.”

Mbadi said the child was managed with oxygen, bed rest, and the highest count over the 10-day period was 3.8.

She said the child could be discharged only if the levels reached 5.

“We cannot allow the child to deteriorate without a blood transfusion, which is the only option to save the child’s life.

“Inasmuch as one respects the religious beliefs of the parents, they are regrettably not acting in the minor child’s best interest, by not consenting to a blood transfusion which could save the minor child’s life,” Mbadi said.

She said as a doctor it was her responsibility to save the child.

On September 28, when the child’s levels had not increased, she contacted the hospital chief executive, who was unfortunately in meetings.

She then sought help at their legal department.

The application was brought after 5.30pm on Friday by advocate Dashendra Naidoo.

Mbadi was of the view that the blood transfusion was a matter of life or death and had no option but to seek recourse in the courts.

When canvassed for a view on blood transfusions, Nzamo Goloda and Ashley Gibson, from the Jehovah Witness head office in Gauteng, said that while there was a standpoint, there was leeway for conscious decisions to be made.

Ann Skelton, from the Centre for Child Law, said that according to the Children’s Act, parents could not refuse children medical treatment on the grounds of religious beliefs.

“Unless they can show a medically- approved alternative.

“This must be shown to the court, but the window period cannot be too long because sometimes it is a life-and-death situation.”

The matter was adjourned to December 5, for the respondents to file responding papers.

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