Fondazione Zoé

If a person knows the consequences of his choices, this will be respected even…

The beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses on the topic of blood transfusions, demonstrates in an exemplary fashion the priority given to the principle of choice regarding medical treatment in the justice system.

Once it is ascertained that an individual knows the consequences of their choices, this will be respected even at the time of refusing a fully adequate, lifesaving medical treatment.
It could be doubtful if in regard to our constitution, if with concern to rights, it foresees in any case that duties, such as teaching and educating children, and rights including the freedom of choice, should balance out. However it is a well-known fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses, if they are old enough and conscious can refuse a blood transfusion and that the doctor who eventually will perform it, against their explicit wishes, would tell them civilly even at the time that it would have saved their life.

The case of an unconscious patient is more problematic: if there are no doubts about the informed and current wishes to refuse a blood transfusion, it will happen. To that end, it is not sufficient that the Jehovah’s Witness carries a card stating ‘no transfusions’, whilst it is adequate that the choice made before surgical intervention is represented by the guardian who is legally responsible.
If older Jehovah’s Witnesses can decide not to live a life in contrast with their faith, it cannot be forbidden that for a minor to have a blood transfusion: in such a case, the doctor must return to the judge because he can overrule the parental choice (the situation is analogous to that of refusing to give the child an obligatory vaccination).

So, strictly in legal terms, it is only in the case of a minor where a doctor can interfere if they feel there is a risk to the individual’s physical integrity due to their religious beliefs. We believe however that in all cases, the doctor must be very explicit in informing the family of the possible negative consequences of exercising the freedom of choice and not aimed at overruling their parental authority, but for favouring an informed decision.

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