A 28-year-old woman and her unborn child have died because of the woman’s decision to not accept a lifesaving blood transfusion.
Doctors at the Royal Hospital for Women and Prince of Wales Hospital in Randwick, Sydney, Australia, have described the “harrowing” effect on hospital staff of two otherwise avoidable deaths.
The woman, a Jehovah’s Witness, was seven months pregnant when it was discovered she had leukaemia.
As a Jehovah’s Witness, obeying rules laid down by the organization’s Governing Body, the woman refused the medically recommended blood transfusion she needed to save her life and that of her unborn baby.
Amy Corderoy, health editor, reporting in the Sydney Morning Herald states,
“More than 80% of pregnant women suffering from the cancer, called acute promyelocytic leukaemia, will go into remission with proper treatment, and the outlook for their babies is good.”
The woman’s obstetricians, who in Australia would otherwise “rarely see people die, or make a decision that will hasten death” were unable to perform a caesarean.
The case was reported by Dr Kidson-Gerber and her colleague Dr Amber Biscoe in the Internal Medicine Journal.
In the article entitled,
‘Avoidable’ death of a pregnant Jehovah’s Witness with acute promyelocytic leukaemia: ethical considerations and the internal conflicts and challenges encountered by practitioners, they note:
“Not administering blood products in this case undoubtedly contributed to the death of mother and foetus.”
“Refusal of a lifesaving intervention by an informed patient is generally well respected, but the right of a mother to refuse such interventions on behalf of her fetus is more controversial.
A doctor indeed has moral obligations to both the pregnant woman, and perhaps with differing priority to the unborn fetus.
Circumstances where fetal and maternal autonomy conflict, or where fetal beneficence conflicts with maternal autonomy, create challenges.”
The article also suggests that there is little published information to assist medical professionals to manage their own anxieties, doubts and potential moral disagreement with the patient.
One organisation that is presenting information for Jehovah’s Witnesses, former Witnesses and health professionals is AJWRB.
The AJWRB’s website provides an objective analysis of the Watchtower Society’s policy on blood transfusions and how it has changed over time. It also provides tools for medical professionals to better establish informed consent with their patients.
Recently, AJWRB created a map linked to numerous stories of those who have had to make the life and death decision to refuse a blood transfusion.
AJWRB say, “the Map’s goal is to combat the false notion promoted by the leaders of the Watchtower organization that “most Witnesses survive their health crisis without the use of blood.”
The Sydney Morning Herald – Pregnant Jehovah’s Witness’ decision to refuse treatment ‘harrowing’ for hospital staff after mother and baby die Link
Internal Medicine Journal – ‘Avoidable’ death of a pregnant Jehovah’s Witness with acute promyelocytic leukaemia: ethical considerations and the internal conflicts and challenges encountered by practitioners Link
Washington Post –
Why doctors let a Jehovah’s Witness and her unborn baby die Link
AJWRB – Associated Jehovah’s Witnesses for Reform on Blood (now Advocates for Jehovah’s Witness Reform on Blood) Link
Watchtower Blood Map Link
Daily Mail – Jehovah’s Witness and her baby die after she refuses a blood transfusion at seven months pregnant… for a cancer she had an 80% chance of surviving with treatment Link