Jehovah's Witness parents prevent blood transfusions for three children

26 February 2019 - 13:24 By nivashni nair
The Durban High Court has granted an interim order to allow blood transfusions to be administered to three children whose parents are Jehovah's Witnesses. The parents say there are better remedies for their children.
The Durban High Court has granted an interim order to allow blood transfusions to be administered to three children whose parents are Jehovah's Witnesses. The parents say there are better remedies for their children.
Image: 123RF/Sudok1

A 10-year-old KwaZulu-Natal girl's latest bout of illness may have strengthened her Jehovah's Witness parents' court battle against receiving blood transfusions.

In responding papers to the Durban High Court, the child's father said a private hospital had been willing to administer an alternative treatment to their child when doctors learned that the family's religious beliefs did not allow blood transfusions.

The family is are among three sets of parents who are fighting a court order granted to KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo and two doctors to administer blood transfusions to their children aged three, five and 10.

The five-year-old boy and three-year-old girl suffer from sickle cell anaemia while the 10-year-old girl, from Nquthu in northern KwaZulu-Natal, has severe anaemia - the  underlying cause has not yet been established.

In his affidavit presented to court on Tuesday, the father said his daughter became ill during a family holiday in December and was admitted to Netcare Mulbarton.

"We explained our religious beliefs concerning the use of blood and with the assistance of the local representatives of the Hospital Liaison Committee, indicated that we would like our daughter to receive non-blood management of her condition," he said.

He said unlike the state doctor, the doctor at Netcare Mulbarton had accepted that his child's condition could "viably be managed using a non-blood based treatment".

"He implemented and persisted with an erythroprotein-based treatment. In deciding on this programme, he formulated a working diagnosis of her condition."

The child's condition had improved.

The father said he was entitled to refuse to consent to the administering of a blood transfusion as he firmly believed that there were "medically acceptable alternatives that are as effective, if not more effective".

"Our religious beliefs are relevant to the question of identifying and implementing medically acceptable alternatives. Our belief that the Bible commands abstention from blood is tenet to our faith.

"Accordingly, I am advised that it is one which must be reasonably accommodated by the state, by virtue of the constitutional protection granted in respect of religious belief and practice."

Commissioned by the parents of the five-year-old boy to provide expert evidence to the court, Nigerian-based haemologist Marcus Asuquo said in his affidavit that there were other ways to treat sickle-cell anaemia.

These include administration of oxygen, fluid management, electrolyte balance and use of folate.

However, in her affidavit to the court last year, specialist paediatrician Dr Noxolo Mbadi that she could "not allow the five-year-old child to deteriorate without a blood transfusion, which is the only option to save his life".

Mbadi, a doctor at Addington hospital, said sickle cell disease was highly unpredictable, therefore without a court order doctors would not be able to save the boy's life as his parents were refusing to consent to a blood transfusion.

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

The matter was adjourned to May.


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