God forbid: Their child’s heart failed, but parents refused blood
Three Jehovah's Witness families are in court to force them to allow doctors to give lifesaving transfusions
A nine-year-old KwaZulu-Natal girl's parents took her to hospital when she fell gravely ill last month – but they refused to allow her doctor to administer a lifesaving blood transfusion when she went into cardiac failure.
“As parents, we took our child to the hospital because we love our child very much. When we got to hospital we were told that she needed blood. However, we refused because it is against our beliefs – but we will not refuse our child alternatives,” her father told the Durban High Court on Wednesday.
In a legal battle – described by advocate Dashendra Naidoo as a conflict between the right to life and the right to religious beliefs – three sets of parents are fighting the KwaZulu-Natal health department because, as Jehovah’s Witnesses, they are forbidden from receiving blood transfusions or blood products.
KZN health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo and two doctors have been granted urgent interim orders to administer blood to the three children, who are aged nine, five and three.
The five-year-old boy and three-year-old girl suffer from sickle cell anaemia.
The nine-year-old girl, from Nquthu in northern KwaZulu-Natal, has severe anaemia, the underlying cause of which has not yet been established. The anaemia caused her to go into cardiac failure on October 24.
In his affidavit the child’s doctor, Rajendra Thejpal, said an alternative treatment was administered when her parents refused to consent to the blood transfusion.
“In as much as one respects the religious beliefs of the parents, they are regrettably not acting in the minor child’s best interests by not consenting to a blood transfusion which is essential to get the child out of cardiac failure,” he said.
Supported by Jehovah’s Witness followers who packed the public gallery on Wednesday, the child’s father said he would present alternatives to blood transfusions in 2019 when the matter was back in court.
Asked by Times Select how he felt about his child receiving blood transfusions while the interim order was still in place, he shook his head and walked away.
Among the supporters was the five-year-old boy whose parents were the first to be taken to court in September; he was oblivious to the legal battle playing out before him.
Dressed in a formal outfit complete with a bowtie, the little boy sat on his mother’s lap watching the sign language interpreter communicate with his deaf parents.
“This matter is not a criticism of the parents’ beliefs,” said Naidoo, who is representing the health department. “It never was. We understand their beliefs. An adult can decide what they want, but a child cannot make an informed decision. Therefore we have come to court for the best interest of the child and for the court to regulate this treatment.”
The parents’ advocate, Andrew Christison, said his clients were not opposed to medical treatment. They instead wanted alternatives rather than treatment that went against their religious beliefs.
The matter was adjourned to February 26 to allow the parents to file answering affidavits, which should include expert evidence on alternative treatment options.