Should a 14-Year-Old Jehovah’s Witness Have Been Allowed to Reject a Life-Saving Blood Transfusion? November 7, 2015

Should a 14-Year-Old Jehovah’s Witness Have Been Allowed to Reject a Life-Saving Blood Transfusion?

In Washington state, the same law that allows transgender teens to take hormones without their parents’ permission and allows pregnant girls to have an abortion without parental consent, also allowed a boy to refuse medical treatment for his leukemia because he was a Jehovah’s Witness. The law is known as the “mature minor doctrine,” though “mature” is always in the eye of the beholder.

Dennis Lindberg was 14 when he told doctors he didn’t want to undergo a blood transfusion that had a good chance of saving his life. A judge eventually gave him the authority to make the final decision about his own care… and Dennis died not long after that.

Reporter Isolde Raftery wrote about Dennis several years ago, and she just published a follow-up story in which she explores whether people involved in his care made the right decision. It may have been what Dennis wanted, but should they have complied?

… I reached out to Dr. Douglas Diekema, a senior ethicist at Seattle Children’s.

Although Diekema wasn’t involved in Dennis’s care, he said he believed Dennis was too young to make such a grave decision. Brain research shows that most of our decision-making is driven by the emotional side of our brains. In teenagers, that’s even more pronounced, because teen decision-making relies more on mid-brain structures, or the socio-emotional part of the brain, than adult decision-making.

Given Dennis’s rough start in life, Diekema said he wondered if Dennis was refusing blood to maintain his relationship with his aunt and his standing in a church community that provided him social support and nurture.

“He may not feel as obligated to make that same decision when he’s 30,” Diekema said.

It’s a heartbreaking story of what can happen when kids are brainwashed to think a blood transfusion goes against God’s wishes. Even worse is that the hospital in question would likely do the exact same thing again.

Unlike the cases of the trans or pregnant teenagers, we’re talking about children who are choosing to effectively kill themselves because their faith pushes them in that direction. Even if they’re considered “mature,” the state should have the ability to override those decisions when they involve the life or death of a patient.

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to David for the link)


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