Doctor goes to court to save child from parents
Jehovah's Witnesses oppose blood transfusion for son, 5
The life of a five-year-old Durban boy has been saved after his paediatrician went to court to approve a life-saving blood transfusion for him in defiance of his parents' religious beliefs.
An urgent interim order was granted a month ago to allow the boy, who suffers from sickle cell anaemia, to receive blood transfusions as and when necessary.
But the child's parents - who are deaf - told the court on Friday via a sign language interpreter that they still plan to oppose the application on religious grounds, even if it means losing the child.
Jehovah's Witnesses are forbidden from receiving blood products or transfusions.
On September 28, advocate Dashendra Naidoo brought an urgent application for an interim order when KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo and Addington Hospital paediatrician Dr Noxolo Mbadi submitted they could "not allow the child to deteriorate without a blood transfusion, which is the only option to save his life".
In court papers Mbadi said sickle cell disease was highly unpredictable and 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.
"Inasmuch as one respects the religious beliefs of the parents they are regrettably not acting in his best interests," she said.
The child's condition is an abnormality of the red blood cells. These contain haemoglobin, which transports oxygen around the body. A normal haemoglobin count is 10g-12g a decilitre (g/dl). When the boy's count fell to 3.4g/dl last month, doctors spoke to his parents through a sign-language interpreter. "They still refused to consent to a blood transfusion. They advised that even if the minor child dies there shall be no claim against the hospital," Mbadi said.
According to the doctor's notes presented to court, the parents understood the seriousness of the condition but requested home therapy. In her affidavit, Mbadi said the child could not be discharged.
"The minor child is at high risk of an acute sickle cell crisis which will result in hypoxaemia, which is lack of oxygen in the blood, which will be fatal."
She said the boy was at risk of infection, cardiac arrest and stroke.
"If any of these conditions are detected, a blood transfusion will become necessary."
On Friday, the court adjourned the matter to December 5 to allow the parents to file opposing papers while the interim order remains in place.
Centre for Child Law director Ann Skelton said the law was clear that parents could not object to medical treatment on religious grounds. However, the court does allow for objections in favour of alternative medical treatment options if there are any available.
"In this case it appears the court found it was urgent to grant the order and said that it could be argued at a later stage."
Skelton said cases in which parents objected to treatment on religious grounds were not common but several had come before South African courts over the years.