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-‘Wrongful Life’ Lawsuit by Jehovah’s Witness Dismissed by Judge

by Dr. D ~ August 9th, 2011

NYC: New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division

(NY Supreme Court by wallyg via Flickr)

Nancy DiGeronimo received a life-saving blood transfusion after she gave birth to a healthy boy. The only problem is that DiGeronimo is a Jehovah’s Witness and apparently would rather have died than received the blood that saved her life. So she sued her doctor and Staten Island University Hospital for ‘medical malpractice’.

The judge dismissed the 5-year-old case against Dr. Allen Fuchs and University Hospital, ruling that the transfusion didn’t deviate from accepted standards of medical care since there was no evidence to show that the transfusion actually harmed her. To the contrary, all of the evidence showed that the procedure saved the life of the mother of 2 instead.

NY State Supreme Court Justice Joseph J. Maltese wrote in a decision handed down last Thursday:

“The plaintiff’s argument, taken to its logical conclusion, is that the doctor should have allowed her [the mother of two children] to die rather than give her an ‘allogenic’ blood transfusion. Since the plaintiff’s transfusion saved her life, this action is analogous to one for ‘wrongful life’ against the doctor. However, there is no cause of action for ‘wrongful life’ in the state of New York.

“In this case, there is no departure from good and acceptable medical care and there is no proximate cause of a legally recognized injury.”

Response: This is another case that demonstrates some of the natural limitations of religious freedom in this country.

In this case the patient would rather have died than receive a blood transfusion which is against her religion. However, giving a life saving blood transfusion is the standard medical procedure. Not to give it would be tantamount to participating in a ‘wrongful death’ or a suicide. The doctor chose life instead and got rewarded with a lawsuit.

Most Jehovah’s Witness let their doctors know about their religious beliefs concerning blood transfusions. Since DiGeronimo sued her doctor we can assume that was the case here also. In final analysis the doctor obviously chose to follow his own ethical or religious beliefs rather than the patient’s.

Legally however, this was not a case of pitting one ethical or religious standard against another since the basis for the suit could only be ‘medical malpractice’.

The judge in this case made the only decision that could lawfully be made since the procedure didn’t deviate from standard medical practice. In fact to withhold the blood could have subjected the doctor and the hospital to a ‘wrongful death’ lawsuit that might well have been successful.

This case ended up being legally all about medicine and really nothing about religion or ethics.             *Top

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