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Application of the President and Directors of Georgetown College

    Brief Fact Summary. A patient, Mrs. Jones (Defendant), is a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect, which prohibits blood transfusions, and was brought to a hospital for emergency care.  The patient had lost two-thirds of her own blood supply.  The hospital applied to the district court for permission to administer blood and was denied.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A court may grant permission to a hospital to administer blood to a critically ill patient whose competence is compromised by her illness, even though such treatment is prohibited by her religious beliefs.

    Facts. Mr. Jones (Defendant) brought Mrs. Jones (Defendant) to the hospital (Plaintiff) for emergency care after a ruptured ulcer caused her to lose two-thirds of her body’s blood supply.  Both Defendants are Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religion that prohibits blood transfusions.  When death was imminent, the hospital (Plaintiff) applied to a federal court for permission to administer blood.  The application was denied by the district court and the Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue. May a court grant permission to a hospital to administer blood to a critically ill patient whose competence is compromised by her illness, even though such treatment is prohibited by her religious beliefs?

    Held. (Wright, J.)  Yes.  A court may grant permission to a hospital to administer blood to a critically ill patient whose competence is compromised by her illness, even though such treatment is prohibited by her religious beliefs.  Several considerations support this conclusion.  Mr. Jones and Mrs. Jones each indicated that if the court ordered the transfusion, it would not be their responsibility.  Also, the right to practice freely does not include freedom to expose the community or a child to communicable disease or to death, and while those are not circumstances present in this case, the analogy is useful because Mrs. Jones (Defendant) was not coherent enough to make a competent choice about treatment due to her illness.  In addition, if a parent has no power to forbid the saving of a child’s life, then the husband of the patient has no right to order the doctors to allow his wife to die.  In addition, granting permission for treatment protected the hospital and doctors from possible liability.  But the most compelling reason for granting permission was that a life hung in the balance, and there was no time for research or reflection.  Writ issued.  

    Discussion. The court said that the husband and wife both indicated that if the court ordered treatment, the matter would be out of their hands.  A fair interpretation of the facts as written would be that they wanted the court to make the decision, and take the matter out of their hands, so that the wife’s life could be saved.  Jehovah’s Witness religious authorities say that the faith requires not only that one refuse consenting to a blood transfusion, but that the patient actually avoid having one.  In that case, and with the patient’s protests (although weak and arguable misleading), they might have a valid cause of action.


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