Blood Transfusions in Children Versus Religious Beliefs

If you were caring for a child who could be cured if given blood transfusions, but whose parents refused permission to give the transfusions due to religious beliefs, what would you do, but whose parents refused permission to give the transfusions due to religious beliefs, what would you do?


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Religious beliefs against blood transfusion have been a point of contention for decades, especially for children. The Jehovah Witness church, for example, prohibits its members from receiving blood based on their interpretation of the Bible. The majority of them carry an advance directive (living will) that dictates heir stand on the issue. However, transfusion is a life-saver in clinical scenarios such as trauma, post-partum bleeding, surgery, and delivery (Sagy, Jotkowitz, Barski, 2017). In children, it has been a long debate on whether to respect the wishes of the parent or medically intervene to save the life of the child in a no-other-option situation.

In situations where it’s considered that the parent has exceeded their authority and the child is deemed to be at significant risk of harm, the physician should involve the services of child welfare agencies who will make a case in a court on medical neglect for the child. In the recent past, many courts have pronounced that the child’s interests outweigh the beliefs of their parents and that parents have no unconditional right to decline medical care on their children’s’ behalf. In emergencies, however, where time is of the essence, blood transfusions should be provided to the child without seeking redress from the courts. More than one physician will be required to sign the documents for the need for blood transfusion (Russell, Wallace, 2017).

With regards to transfusion, progress has been made whereby blood transfusion was formally needed. Bloodless surgery techniques have been increasingly sought after, while the use of recombinant factors such as erythropoietin has been given as alternatives to avoid legal consequences (Hoffman, 2016). Nonetheless, getting vital patient information and seeking informed consent is paramount in such situations. Careful discussion with the parent with the consideration of their views should be done with mutual respect.


Hoffman, A. (2016). Jehovah’s Witness parents’ refusal of blood transfusions: Ethical considerations for psychologists. Journal of health psychology, 21(8), 1556-1565.

Russell, G. K., & Wallace, D. (2017). Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Refusal of Blood Transfusions: A Balance of Interests. The Catholic Lawyer, 33(4), 6.

Sagy, I., Jotkowitz, A., & Barski, L. (2017). Reflections on cultural preferences and internal medicine: the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the changing thresholds for blood transfusions. Journal of religion and health, 56(2), 732-738.

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