In Australia, a 28-year-old pregnant woman and her unborn baby died after she was diagnosed with leukemia but refused a blood transfusion that could have saved both their lives.
According to the Daily Mail, doctors advised the woman to have a blood transfusion, delivery her baby via caesarean section and start chemotherapy immediately. However, she refused because she’s a Jehovah’s Witness and their religion opposes blood transfusions.
The woman’s hematologist, Dr. Giselle Kidson-Gerber, said that the mother understood her options but still refused treatment. She said, “Her refusal to receive a blood transfusion meant that we were unable to perform a caesarean section and to deliver the fetus.”
Tragically, the woman’s baby died in utero and she died after suffering a stroke and multi-organ failure. Dr. Kidson-Gerber said, “Obviously it’s a very big ethical issue. Legally in Australia the mother has the right to make decisions on her behalf and her fetus’s behalf. Most mothers would make decisions in favor of the unborn baby and this was a decision that was not in favor of the unborn baby.” She added, “It was sad. I think that I did my best to help her. But ultimately I couldn’t change the course of events.”
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After the incident, staff at Prince of Wales Hospital described the experience as “distressing” because they believed their deaths were completely avoidable. The National Institute of Health reports that 83% of pregnant women with leukemia go into remission after treatment.
In a recent article published in the Internal Medicine Journal about the 2009 case, Dr Kidson-Gerber and her colleague Dr Amber Biscoe wrote: ‘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 rights of a mother to refuse such interventions on behalf of her foetus is more controversial.’
Sascha Callaghan, an expert in ethics and law at the University of Sydney said the current law allows the mother to make decisions that would directly affect her unborn baby, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
She said Jehovah’s Witnesses are often condemned for their beliefs, especially in relation to their stance against blood transfusions. ‘This woman has a long-held commitment to the Jehovah’s Witness faith and that’s how she chose to die,’ she told the Herald. ‘When your foetus is in utero, it is inextricably tied to your life.’
Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusions because they believe the Bible commands them to abstain from ingesting blood and that avoiding blood pays respect to God as the giver of life.