Aug 6, 2020

Power of Court to Override a Parents decision not to allow Blood Transfusion on their Child

Blood transfusion is the process of transferring blood or blood products into one's circulation intravenously. Transfusions are used for various medical conditions to replace lost components of the bloodIn an emergency, a blood transfusion can be what saves a patient’s life.

However, not everyone believes in blood transfusions, for instance it is a deep belief between Jehovah Witnesses that blood transfusion, according to their faith is not acceptable. While every global citizen has the right to their choice of religion, faith or beliefs, it can get tricky when the lines between justice, health emergencies and religion cross. 

It is a general and well-grounded principle of law that in the determination of a child’s rights, the paramount consideration of the Court will be the interest of the child. The Court takes this position in all matters, either it bothers on custody and maintenance proceedings or life and death matters such as administering a blood transfusion on a child.

This was illustrated in the case of Tega Esabunor & Anor vs. Dr. Tunde Faweya & 4 others, SC.97/2009. In the matter, the first Appellant was a one month old baby when the incident that led to this Appeal occurred. He was very ill and would have died if the first Respondent did not act quickly enough to obtain the Court Order that allowed him to administer the blood transfusion. After first Appellant got well and was discharged from hospital, the second Appellant, who fought against the said blood transfusion, because it is against her religious beliefs, filed an Application wherein she prayed that the Order for blood transfusion made on 12/5/1997, by the fifth Respondent, be set aside. The Application was dismissed both at the High Court and the Court of Appeal.

The Supreme Court when pronouncing on the matter stated that; “all adults have the inalienable right to make any choice they may decide to make and to assume the consequences. When it involves a child, different considerations apply and this is so because a child is incapable of making decisions for himself and the law is duty bound to protect such a person from abuse of his rights as he may grow up and disregard those religious beliefs. It makes no difference if the decision to deny him blood transfusion is made by his parents. When a competent parent or one in loco parentis refuses blood transfusion or medical treatment for her child on religious grounds, the Court should step in, consider the baby's welfare, i.e. saving the life and the best interest of the child, before a decision is taken. These considerations outweigh religious beliefs of the Jehovah Witness Sect. The decision should be to allow the administration of blood transfusion especially in life threatening situations.”

From the above pronouncement, the Court once again reinforces the position of law as stated in Section 1, Child’s Right Act (2003) that best interest of a Child to be of paramount consideration in all actions.