A life saving blood transfusion was administered to a three month old baby recently contrary to the express wishes of the child’s Jehovah Witness parents.
Baby AB was born in September 2010. The baby boy became very unwell on Christmas Day due to bronchiolitis. When he was transferred to Temple Street Children’s Hospital, his haemoglobin levels dropped and sigificantly hindered his body’s capacity to deliver oxygen to his vital organs and maintain normal neurological functions. By 9pm on 26 December, a blood transfusion was absolutely necessary. His parents, as committed Jehovah's Witnesses, were opposed to a blood transfusion but had consented to the use of certain blood products.
The hospital decided to seek a Court Order allowing it to administer a transfusion to Baby AB and an emergency Hearing was held.
Right to Life and Freedom of Religion
Mr Justice Hogan considered how to balance the right to life and freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution. He acknowledged that the free practice of religion is guaranteed to every citizen, subject to public order and morality.
Furthermore, the Constitution acknowledges family autonomy and guarantees to protect the family unit. However, the Constitution also provides that in exceptional cases, where parents fail in their duty towards their children, the State can intervene. Mr Justice Hogan felt this imminent threat to the life of Baby AB was an exceptional circumstance which warranted intervention, even though the use of the term “failure” in this context was an unhappy one since there was no doubt that Baby AB’s parents, acting by the lights of their own deeply held religious views, behaved in a conscientious fashion.
In these circumstances, the Court had jurisdiction to override the religious objections of the parents where adherence to beliefs would threaten the life and general welfare of the child. Mr Justice Hogan granted a declaration that it would be lawful in these circumstances to administer a blood transfusion in the case of Baby AB. The declaration was however, limited to the clinical events and was not to be construed as conferring an open-ended entitlement to administer such treatment.