Jehovah's Witnesses seek to join mother in hospital case

Ireland on-line/October 23, 2006

More Jehovah’s Witnesses are booked in to give birth at a hospital that controversially gave a pregnant woman a blood transfusion against her will, the High Court heard today.

A barrister representing the religion’s leaders in Ireland said there was a list of women concerned about giving birth at Dublin’s Coombe Hospital after it went to the courts to get an order compelling a woman to undergo a transfusion.

The 23-year-old Jehovah’s Witness known as Ms K, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, suffered a massive haemorrhage and lost up to 80% of her blood after giving birth on September 21.

Although she refused a blood transfusion – because of her beliefs – the hospital successfully sought a court order compelling her to do so, arguing she would die otherwise.

Adrian Lawlor and Arthur Matthews, of Watchtower – a company representing Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ireland – are seeking to be joined with Ms K in her action against the hospital following the procedure.

Junior counsel for the pair, Simon Mills, told the High Court he had a list of women, co-religionists of his clients, who were booked into the Coombe to give birth.

He argued the case was not just Ms ’ but about more than 5,000 of her congregation in Ireland, and as such the religion should be represented in the court action.

The case was so extraordinary and far-reaching that it merited the unusual step of allowing the religious leaders to be joined with Ms K in the action, he said.

However, Gerard Hogan SC, for the hospital, said there was no precedent for such an action and accused the religion of trying to “jump into the shoes” of Ms K to further its own cause.

Both men had an interest in the outcome of the case, as Jehovah’s Witnesses, but he added: “That is very different from saying they have an interest in the legal sense of the term.”

He objected to the application, comparing it to allowing political parties, trade unions or other groups becoming party to a court action simply because they had a special interest in the outcome.

In any event, he said, there was no suggestion Ms K could not defend her case “adequately and vigorously” on her own, aided by Watchtower as she wished.

The Attorney General said he was “neutral” on the case. Mr Justice Frank Clarke reserved judgement on the application.

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