Durban - The parents of three children who are Jehovah’s Witnesses have suggested to the Durban High Court that erythropoietin can be used to treat their children instead of blood transfusions.
Erythropoietin is a drug-based treatment which stimulates the production of red blood cells.
The parents’ submissions were filed against an interim order granted in the high court which permitted doctors to administer blood transfusions for their children should they be required.
The application for the orders was brought separately before court because each child was admitted to hospital and their parents refused to allow them to have blood transfusions because it went against their religious beliefs.
First was a five-year-old boy, admitted to hospital in September last year, followed by two girls, aged three and 10, in October and November respectively.
The Health Department approached the court for the orders and in December the department was granted an interim order to treat one of the children with a blood transfusion.
Two units of blood were administered to one of the children.
Currently the 10-year-old girl is a patient at a Pietermaritzburg hospital while the other two are back home with their respective parents.
The boy’s parents included in their papers a statement from Dr Marcus Aniekan Inyama Asuquo, a specialist haematologist based at the University of Calabar in Nigeria.
Asuquo, also a Jehovah’s Witness, said he had extensive experience in treating patients with sickle cell anaemia, which was prevalent in Nigeria.
“I have perused the child’s medical records... There is no evidence that the quality of care given to the child at home will change for worse to warrant blood transfusion,” he said.
The other two sets of parents asked the court for a two-month adjournment to get expert witnesses.
It emerged in these papers that the law firm representing the parents of the five-year-old boy, Farnsworth-Hughes, received private backing from a donor that facilitated access to experts with a view to the matter being dealt with as a test.
“Farnsworth-Hughes attorneys have agreed to instruct the experts that have been employed on their behalf to provide expert advice and opinion evidence for this matter, too,” said the father of the three-year-old girl.
On November 22 last year a routine blood test revealed that she had sickle cell anaemia, and the hospital sought her parents’ consent to administer a blood transfusion, if necessary, to prevent an acute crisis, including a stroke.
“We firmly believe that there are well-documented, medically-accepted alternatives to a blood transfusion that are compatible with our religious beliefs and that constitute appropriate treatment in the circumstances,” said the father.
He explained that when the state doctor, Swaran Singh, made the application he indicated that while he wished to apply for a court order to authorise the administering of a blood transfusion in an emergency, he had used alternative treatment before and had seen it work.
“As it happened, the hospital did not, in fact, need to administer a blood transfusion. We wish to express our appreciation to the hospital. At the same time, however, this begs the question of whether there was need for the application of the order,” he said.
The matter goes back to court in May for the parents to file further expert witness affidavits.