I recently came across a Sydney Morning Herald article regarding a 17-year-old male teen with Hodgkin's lymphoma in need of a blood transfusion. This is a typical procedure among lymphoma patients, but not for a Jehovah's Witness.
Many of us involved in healthcare are aware that Jehovah's Witness patients do not accept blood transfusions and will request alternative treatment options. Though healthcare professionals must respect the wishes of these patients, a judge in New South Wales felt a bit differently about the situation.
The patient is just 10 months away from his 18th birthday, when he will be considered an adult and entitled to accept or refuse any form of treatment. For now, he is under the care of his parents. He initially received chemotherapy treatment, which led to remission. Several months later, the cancer relapsed and was found in his lungs, spleen, and lymph nodes. The oncologist recommended more intensive chemotherapy treatment, but this would lead to the common side effect of anemia, at some point requiring a blood transfusion. The patient and his family refused all treatment.
Eventually, the family agreed to treat the patient with two cycles of chemotherapy at a lower dose, in the hopes that he would not experience severe anemia. Unfortunately, the patient did not achieve a complete response to the lower dose of chemotherapy treatment. I'm sure this came as no surprise for the oncologist who had recommended the higher dose.
The patient did end up becoming severely anemic, and treatment was stopped. The physician advised the patient and his family that, if treatment were to be restarted (leading to a dangerous level of anemia), the hospital staff would perform an emergency transfusion. The patient's response suggested he would "rip the IV out."
Why not respect the patient's wishes and continue care with the patient's needs in mind? The oncologist said the patient would have a 50 percent chance of survival if chemotherapy treatment were administered and an 80 percent chance of dying from severe anemia without a transfusion. That was enough reason for the judge to rule in favor of the medical team, who was ordered to administer lifesaving treatment if necessary.
"The sanctity of life in the end is a more powerful reason for me to make the orders than is respect for the dignity of the individual," Justice Ian Gzell said in his ruling.
Do you feel the judge had the right to intervene and force this patient to accept lifesaving treatment, or should the medical team have respected the beliefs of the patient and his family?