Court saves baby's life

News 24, South Africa/July 9, 2008

Port Elizabeth - Strict religious beliefs nearly claimed the life of a 14-day-old baby at the weekend.

The Legal Aid Board and Port Elizabeth High Court had to intervene on Friday night to save the life of a baby boy.

Dave McGlew of the Legal Aid Board in Port Elizabeth said the baby was born 10 weeks premature on June 23.

He had to have an urgent blood transfusion, but the religious beliefs of his parents, who are Jehovah's Witnesses, did not allow it.

Jehovah's Witnesses keep strictly to the Bible's decree that no form of blood may be eaten. They believe this is applicable also to the storage and transfusion of blood.

McGlew said Netcare Greenacres Hospital, where the baby was being treated, asked for legal aid and the case eventually ended up at the Legal Aid Board.

Court ordered transfusion

According to a statement, advocate Lilla Crouse of the Legal Aid Board had to act quickly to ensure that a judge, a registrar and a stenographer reported to the court at 18:00 to hear an urgent application and a paediatrician was asked to testify.

The court ordered at 19:00 that a blood transfusion should be done.

Parents are required to give permission for a blood transfusion for a minor. McGlew said the High Court, as supreme guardian of all minors, could give consent for a blood transfusion.

He emphasised that the parents did not oppose the application, but could not give consent themselves.

Crouse said: "My heart went out to the child's parents. The couple must've known that, with their decision, they were signing their child's death certificate."

Crouse's statement said that the paediatrician had explained that, without a blood transfusion, the child would have died on Friday night or Saturday morning.

The judge apparently went to a lot of trouble to explain to the parents, whose names were not allowed be publicised, why he ordered the blood transfusion.

'Some people die because of this belief'

Juvenal Coelho, an elder at the Jehovah's Witnesses church in South End, Port Elizabeth, quoted various passages from the Bible that forbade the eating of blood in any form.

According to him, this included the intake of blood through a person's veins.

He said: "Some people die because of this belief, but we believe in a resurrection in God's new paradise.

"What happened will not be held against the parents or the child; it wasn't their decision."

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