Thursday, February 01, 2007

Lucky day for bioethicists: Another Jehova's Witnesses story for our clinical ethics teaching

Reports today's issue of the Canadian broadsheet GLOBE AND MAIL that the authorities in one of the country's provinces have taken control over the medical care of a couple's newborns. In this case, of their sextuplets two newborns died in the meantime, the other four need regular blood transfusions to stay alive. The kids are unfortunate enough to have parents who happen to be Jehova's Witnesses. Not unexpectedly Jehova has told his witnesses that their kids may not receive blood transfusions etc etc - really the usual ridiculousness that religions dump without warning on the uninitiated and unprepared observer. So, these parents are quite happy to see them die rather than receive life saving blood transfusions. Dad reportedly left the hospital when the life preserving transfusions took place as he didn't feel good about sticking around while his newborns were being 'violated'. Of course, if he wasn't be a member of an organised religion (meaning there's plenty more where he came from), the courts would have him on neglect and probably child abuse charges. Given that he believes so very strongly, it seems somehow his 'conscience' based decision deserves some respect instead of derision.

The main point (ie the take-home message) is this: As an adult, competent person you're entitled to decline life preserving means such as blood transfusions. There is no way, however, that you're entitled to make such a decision on behalf of your kids. You are entitled to harm yourself, you are not entitled to harm others (including your kids). That you belief otherwise is besides the point, clinical judgment must win the day, and thankfully it does in most countries.

Funny though that news media continue reporting such cases. I assume this is done so us bioethicists get our hands on more teaching materials ... and for that we ought to be grateful to them!

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