April 9, 2008
Why would loving faith allow death?
Features news editor Neil Thomas examines the issues behind the tragic death of new mum Emma Gough.
Words written by heaven knows who and attributed to Moses have brought about the apparently needless death of a young Shropshire mother, and blighted many other lives, more than 3,000 years later.
Far-fetched, possibly. Yet, how else are we to interpret the death of Emma Gough?
Mid and north Shropshire coroner John Ellery said yesterday that Emma had received appropriate medical care and treatment and would probably be alive if she had accepted a blood transfusion.
The 22-year-old from Telford died after suffering massive blood loss just hours after giving birth to twins at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. Emma was a Jehovah’s Witness, a sect which believes that the Bible forbids blood transfusions.
Whatever your beliefs, this was a case with no winners. Emma’s chance of a fulfilling life, to see the little boy and girl she gave birth to on that fateful day grow up and have their own families, is gone.
The twins are denied a mother’s love. Emma’s parents Glenda and Jim have had to face the unbearable grief of burying their child. Emma’s husband Anthony has lost the love of his life.
And what of the physicians - Dr Lucy Turner who delivered the twins and consultant gynaecologist, Mr Olofunso Oyesanya, called in to remove a blood clot shortly after the birth?
They were armed with the tools to save Emma and rendered powerless to use them - caught in the crossfire of the classic modern age conflict between science and faith.
Doctors can also call on antiquity. Jehovah’s Witnesses may make sacrificial demands of themselves, but physicians adhere to the Hippocratic Oath - written in the 4th Century BC by Hippocrates, the father of medicine, or one of his students.
Doctors swear, among other things, to keep the sick “from harm and injustice”.
Mr Oyesanya had no doubt Emma would have survived with a blood transfusion, but was faced with her advance directive refusing such treatment.
On Monday he found himself in a witness box at Shrewsbury Magistrates Court, fending off questions from the Gough family solicitor Richard Daniel.
He asked Mr Oyesanya if a clotting factor could have been used to stem Emma’s critical blood loss. Mr Daniel suggested Mr Oyesanya might have employed Factor Seven as an alternative to a transfusion.
This is the clotting agent used on troops in Iraq and the subject of a little controversy, with some experts claiming the £3,000-a-shot treatment can induce heart attacks and strokes. Still, no lives are at risk if you throw it into the war of sophistry in a courtroom.
Mr Oyesanya remained dignified, even if he bridled once or twice at questioning designed to examine his competence as a doctor. Underlying it, though, was not so much “why didn’t you save Emma’s life?” but “why didn’t you save Emma’s life with one hand tied behind your back?”
“We want to do the best for our patient. That’s why we sign up,” was Mr Oyesanya’s response.
So why has this tragedy happened? On the face of it, The Bible no more appears to forbid blood transfusions than it does chemotherapy and liver transplants. It simply wouldn’t have been an issue in 1400BC.
It is, of course, all in the interpretation.
The Bible might have incited wars, inquisitions and stake-burnings but had caused no harm to those needing life-saving blood transfusions during two world wars. In 1945, though, the faith’s handbook The Watchtower - under the editorship of one Nathan Homer Norr - carried the line “the stranger was forbidden to eat or drink blood, whether by transfusion or by the mouth”.
And that was it. In 64 years since, Jehovah’s Witnesses have bled to death for their faith. Little children have died on operating tables while their parents stood by and quoted scriptures. The wider world has looked on with a mixture of horror, pity, anger and incredulity.
The Old Testament books of Genesis and Leviticus and the New Testament Acts of the Apostles have now led to a young Shropshire woman, with everything to live for, making the ultimate sacrifice. It is inconceivable that Jehovah’s Witnesses - Christians who believe in love and mercy - would want this.
Perhaps, in the wake of Emma’s death, the faith’s leaders could now spearhead a doctrinal debate on the issue.
After all, the scriptures also advocate animal sacrifice and no one practises that any more. If we can jetison The Bible to spare the lives of lambs and kids, why not humans?
As the book of Revelations says: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.”