Thursday 19 July 2018

Refusing blood cost Jehovah’s Witness her life

Woman had 98pc chance of survival with a transfusion, inquest told

Georgina O’Halloran

A JEHOVAH’S Witness who refused a blood transfusion in hospital had a 98pc chance of surviving the bleed that killed her – if she had been given the procedure, an inquest was told yesterday.

Grieving husband Philip Baxter said his wife Anita (56) “did not want to die” but “did not want a blood transfusion”. A coroner has called for hospitals to consider seeking a court ruling in similar contexts – where a patient refuses blood on religious grounds.

Mrs Baxter, of Tudor Court, Coill Dubh, Naas, Co Kildare, died of acute cardiac failure caused by blood problems in Tallaght Hospital on September 15, 2009.

Mr Baxter told the inquest: “She said she did not want to die, but she was adamant she did not want a blood transfusion.”

Mrs Baxter, a Jehovah’s Witness, died five days after surgery to remove a tumour from her colon – after which she suffered significant bleeding.

Surgeon Diarmuid O’Riordan told the inquest there was a “98pc to 99pc chance she would have survived if she was given the appropriate blood transfusion”.

Dublin County Coroner’s Court heard yesterday that Mrs Baxter signed an informed consent form before surgery stating that she didn’t want blood or blood products – even as a lifesaving measure.

Detailed consent was given to doctors operating as part of three separate medical teams at the hospital – including to Mr O’Riordan, consultant haematologist Dr Helen Enright and anaesthetist Dr Fergal Day. Consent

“She was extensively counselled pre-operatively regarding the potential consequences of her refusal,” Dr Enright said. “She explicitly indicated she did not want transfusion of blood products – even if it cost her her life,” according to Mr O’Riordan.

Mrs Baxter’s blood pressure dropped after a successful fivehour keyhole procedure on September 10. She underwent open surgery, three hours after the operation, for a suspected bleed.

She was unconscious for five days before her death. Anaesthetist Dr Fergal Day explained to her family that, without a transfusion, “it was unlikely Mrs Baxter would survive”.

If she received the transfusion, “the overwhelming likelihood is that she would have survived”, he told the inquest.

Coroner Dr Kieran Geraghty called on management at the hospital to consider seeking a court ruling in future similar cases, where a person was unconscious and not in a position to affirm their decision – and there was time to make a court order – so the situation could be clarified.

“It’s putting doctors in an incredible position, where they can save a person, that they have to ... let them die,” he said.

Mrs Baxter “had five days to be saved and she was not in a position to change her mind.

I’m surprised an opinion was not sought from the court”.

Solicitor for the hospital, Kevin Power said that, under Irish law, a patient had the right to “choose their medical treatment” and could “give a directive.. . as long as they are informed of the relevant risks”.

He added that, if they were unconscious, that consent would carry through.

Mrs Baxter’s husband Philip told the inquest he asked a doctor if she would “put in writing” that the transfusion would save his wife’s life if he overturned her decision. “She said she couldn’t say that,” he said.

He added: “I would not change my wife’s decision. She had signed it and she was quite adamant she did not want a blood transfusion.”

Asked by the coroner whether his wife would have changed her mind if she was capable of considering the situation, and was told there was a 98pc to 99pc chance she would die without a transfusion, Mr Baxter said ‘No’.

Coroner Dr Kieran Geraghty recorded a verdict of death by natural causes.

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