Doctors Hail Supreme Court on Blood Transfusion for Children

NIGERIAN Doctors hailed the Supreme Court ruling upholding blood transfusion for children of Jehovah Witness.

The doctors under the aegis of Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) described the Court judgement as “Landmark and a relief to the medical profession”.

President of the NMA, Dr. Francis Faduyile told Healthstyleplus “This is indeed a landmark judgement and those of us in the medical profession are excited that at last there is final pronouncement by the highest court in the matter concerning trasfusion of children on account of parents’ faith and it is really a step in the right direction”.

Though Faduyile pointed out that hitherto, there has existed the practice whereby a doctor could approach a court to get an order to treat a sick child in the best care possible, “the only thing is that it has not extended up to the level in which the supreme court will make a pronouncement on it, but now, we see this ruling as a step in the right direction”, said, Faduyile.

The NMA Leader described the SCN judgement as “fair to minors who may not be having the opportunity of deciding for themselves; and so, the Court has ruled that we should not leave their vulnerability in the hands of their parents”

According to the NMA Leader, “We have had so many children not taking the line of faith of their parents deprived.

In this wise anybody treating a minor, if the doctor has a strong feeling or the medical team has a strong feeling that a child may benefit from any sort of medical intervention, even if the parent or guardian are not in support, medically, he can approach the courts and get an order from the court to treat the child and save his life”.

A Consultant Pediatric Neurosurgeon, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, (LASUTH), Dr. Salisu Mohammed told our Correspondent, “In all honesty, unless and except a law exists in the country that addresses this question, then what we will have is the brickbat that will go on between guardians  and healthcare Practitioners which have most times resulted in guardians taking away their wards from the hospital to wherever”.

Dr. Mohammed who also sees the judgement as “best for the minor” noted, ” there remains the administrative processes to initiate and execute at any time should this challenge occur, that is, convoking a court sitting, executing a judgement and then the state taking over such a vulnerable child”.

The Chief Medical Director Federal Medical Centre, Dr. Ademola Dada told Healthstyleplus, “If the Supreme Court of the land has ruled, then we would just obey the judgement; it is our responsibility to obey the laws of the land”

According to him, “We are civil servants and our duty is to ensure we obey all laws and regulations”.

With the SCN ruling only an adult who has decline treatment on account of faith having been duly informed and is empowered to take informed decision can decline any form of medical intervention by choice.

The Supreme Court Nigeria (SCN) after 22 years of dispute,

Dr. Francis Duyile

ruled in favour of the Respondent, Dr Faweya and subsequently dismissed the appeal as lacking in merit.

The Supreme Court ruled in favour of blood transfusion to save lives of children noting, “when a competent parent or one in loco parentis refuses blood transfusion or medical treatment for her child on religious grounds, the Court should step in, consider the baby’s welfare, i.e. saving the life and the best interest of the child, before a decision is taken”.

According to the unanimous decision of the the 5-man Justices of the SCN, OLABODE RHODES-VIVOUR, OLUKAYODE ARIWOOLA, JOHN INYANG OKORO, CHIMA CENTUS NWEZE and AMINA ADAMU AUGIE, “an adult who is conscious and in full control of his mental capacity, and of sound mind has the right to either accept or refuse blood (medical treatment). The hospital has no choice but to respect their patient’s wishes.

“When it involves a child, the Supreme Court stated that different considerations apply and this is so because a child is incapable of making decisions for himself and the law is duty bound to protect such a person from abuse of his rights as he may grow up and disregard those religious beliefs. It makes no difference if the decision to deny him blood transfusion is made by his parents. See M.D.P.D.T. v.Okonkwo (2001) 7NWLR (Pt.711) P.206.

“These considerations outweigh religious beliefs of the Jehovah Witness Sect. The decision should be to allow the administration of blood transfusion especially in life threatening situations”, the Court affirmed.

In the facts of the case brought before the SCN, 2nd Appellant, mother of Tega, 1st Appellant, had given birth to him on April 19, 1997 at the Chevron Clinic, Lekki Peninsula in Lagos. Within a month of his birth (i.e. on 11 May, 1997) he fell gravely ill.

“His mother, the 2nd appellant, took him back to the Chevron Clinic on 11 May, 1997 for urgent treatment. It was the 1st respondent (Dr. Tunde Faweya), who treated the 1st appellant. He found that the 1st appellant urgently needed blood transfusion.

“The 2nd respondent and her husband made it abundantly clear to the 1st respondent that on no account should their child (the 1st appellant) be given blood transfusion. Their reason being that there were several hazards that follows blood transfusion such as contracting Aids, Hepatitis etc. and that as members of the Jehovah witness sect, blood transfusion was forbidden by their Religion. Dr Tunde Faweya (the 1st respondent) remained unyielding.

“The next day, the learned counsel for the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State moved an Originating Motion Exparte before the 5th respondent.

The motion was brought under Section 27 (1) and (30) of the Children and Young Person’s Law Cap 25 of Lagos State. The relief sought was: “that the medical authorities of the Clinic of Chevron Nigeria Limited Lekki Peninsula Lagos be allowed and are hereby permitted to do all and anything necessary for the protection of the life and health of the child TEGA ESABUNOR and for such further order or orders as the Court may deem fit to make in the circumstances.”

“After hearing counsel, the Chief Magistrate granted the application under its inherent jurisdiction. On receipt of the Order of the Chief Magistrate, the 1st respondent administered blood transfusion on the 1st appellant on the same day. (i.e. May 12, 1997).

“The 1st appellant got well and was discharged. His mother took him home. On May 15, 1997 the 2nd appellant filed an application on notice wherein she sought for the setting aside of the order made on 12 May, 1997. The application was unsuccessful. It was dismissed on May 21, 1997.

“The appellants were dissatisfied with the proceedings before the Chief Magistrate, so they approached the High Court for an order of Certiorari and damages of N10 million.

“In a considered ruling delivered on May 28, 2001 the learned trial Judge refused their prayers and claims.

“The appellants were not satisfied with the ruling of the High Court. They filed an appeal. The Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, heard it and the decision of the High Court was affirmed. Further dissatisfied, the Appellants appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Issue that was thereafter sought before the SCN was: “Whether the Court of Appeal was correct in holding that the 2nd Appellants’ refusal to give consent to blood transfusion amounted to an attempt to commit a crime or to allow the 1st Appellant to die”.

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