Three Jehovah's Witness families taken to court to save children's lives

Sunday Times, South Africa/December 5, 2018

By Nivashni Nair

Two more Jehovah's Witness families have been taken to the Durban High Court to force them to allow doctors to administer lifesaving blood to their seriously ill children.

The two matters were added to the court's roll to be heard on Wednesday as a third set of parents planned to defend their refusal to allow their five-year-old son, who suffers from sickle cell anaemia, to receive blood transfusions.

Jehovah's Witness forbids followers from receiving blood transfusions or blood products.

The KwaZulu-Natal health MEC and a state paediatrician are the applicants in all three cases.

Details of the two additional matters have not yet been released as the court proceedings were delayed by power cuts on Wednesday.

The matter of the five-year-old boy was brought to court on September 28 when KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo and Addington Hospital specialist paediatrician Dr Noxolo Mbadi could "not allow the child to deteriorate without a blood transfusion, which is the only option to save his life".

In court papers, Mbadi said sickle cell disease was highly unpredictable and, without a court order, doctors would not be able to save the boy's life because his parents were refusing to consent to a blood transfusion.

"In as much as one respects the religious beliefs of the parents they are regrettably not acting in his best interests by not consenting to a blood transfusion which could save the minor child's life," she said.

The child's condition is an abnormality of the red blood cells which contain haemoglobin that transports oxygen to the body.

The normal haemoglobin count is between 10 and 12g/dL. When the boy's count dropped to 3.4g/dL last month, doctors spoke to his parents with the aid of a sign-language interpreter.

"Despite our best efforts they still refused to consent to a blood transfusion. They, in fact, advised that even if the minor child dies there shall be no claim against the hospital," Mbadi said.

According to the doctor's notes presented to court, the parents understood the seriousness of their child's condition. However, they maintained their position and requested home therapy.

In her affidavit, Mbadi said the child had to be treated in hospital and could not be discharged.

"The minor child is at high risk for an acute sickle cell crisis, which means the oxygen-carrying capacity of the haemoglobin red blood cells will be severely compromised resulting in hypoxemia, which is lack of oxygen in the blood, and which will be fatal," Mbadi said.

She said the boy was at risk of infection, cardiac arrest and a stroke. "If any of these conditions are detected then a blood transfusion will become necessary.

"As a physician it is my responsibility to do what is necessary to save the life of the minor child and the administering of the blood transfusion is part of the management of the minor child and must be administered as soon as the need arises," said Mbadi.

The court had granted an interim order to allow the boy to receive the lifesaving blood before adjourning the matter to December 5 to allow the child's parents to file their opposing papers.

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