The sextuplets that were born in British Columbia last week have sparked a lot of controversy after it was revealed that the parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Whether or not they would allow their babies to receive blood transfusions has become the issue surrounding this story.
Yesterday, Mark Ruge, a spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses national headquarters, told reporters that “Jehovah’s Witnesses do not reject transfusions because they feel coerced. In addition to their religious beliefs, most are convinced that they are better off physicially without the blood, and there are many alternatives now to transfusions”.
The sextuplets were born between 25 and 26 weeks, weighing under 2lbs each. Babies born at this gestation usually need many blood transfusions due to the number of tests that need to done.
Mr. Ruge emphasized that doctors have treated premature babies without blood transfusions by ”careful attention to minimal blood sampling, clinical acceptance of lower hemoglobin levels, use of erythropoietin and iron to stimulate natural production of red blood cells and other recognized medical procedures.”
I understand that from the outside it is easy to ask that minimal blood be removed from the infant during testing, but in reality these babies are probably being tested 6 times a day for various increases and drops in their levels. Now that these babies are probably 5 or 6 days old, the issue has already been raised at the hospital.
Hospital and child welfare officials will likely request a court order allowing them to impose the treatment if it becomes necessary and the parents object, said Juliet Guichon, a University of Calgary medical ethicist who has studied such conflicts.
“At the end of the day, the patients are the babies, and the physicians must do what’s in the best interests of the babies,” Ms. Guichon said.
“The babies will be protected by the courts, there is no doubt about that.”
She cited a 1995 Supreme Court of Canada decision dealing with the premature baby of another Jehovah’s Witness couple. The judges concluded the infant’s medical interests overrode the parents’ religious rights.
It is common for extremely premature babies to require a blood transfusion, “and it is likely to be more than one transfusion,” said Dr. Susan Albersheim, a neonatologist at B.C. Women’s Hospital, where the sextuplets were born.
As well as the threat of anemia, such newborns have a tiny volume of blood and doctors have to withdraw significant amounts to carry out a variety of tests, she said. The neonatal team has in the past had to deal with Jehovah’s Witness parents who opposed a transfusion, said the specialist, but she declined to say how those cases were resolved.
“In most situations, you would try as hard as you can to respect the parents, at the same time as doing what is best for the child,” she said.
Little is known about the mother and father of the six babies, except that they are Jehovah’s Witnesses and have asked for privacy as they try to come to terms with what appears to be the largest multiple birth ever in Canada.
Once you enter the NICU and see all of the monitoring equipment and the number of doctors and nurses employed to take care of these special babies your take on life sometimes changes. These babies are so small and helpless that you would do ANYTHING to make sure they survive. The NICU puts parents in a helpless situation, there is nothing you can do for your child except let them know you are there for them. When the doctor would recommend a treatment that would increase my sons chance of surviving, I would agree. That is your contribution – to allow the professionals to do what’s best for your child.
Religion or not, I hope these parents have already made the commitment to do whatever it takes for their babies to live. If blood transfusions are part of it, the babies will receive them whether the government has to step in or not. The Canadian Government will not endanger the health of these miracle babies just to please religious groups. I hope it doesn’t go that far and these babies are able to receive every oppurtunity that will give them a better chance at life.