August 06, 2009
Article from: Australian Associated Press
A DYING man has been granted the right to refuse life-saving medical treatment on the grounds of his religious beliefs.
The man, aged in his 70s and known only as "Mr A", was unconscious when admitted to the emergency unit of a hospital run by the Hunter and New England Area Health Service on July 1. He was suffering from septic shock and respiratory failure.
Despite receiving treatment, he developed renal failure and by July 14 was being kept alive by mechanical ventilation and kidney dialysis.
On that day a document prepared on August 19, 2008, and signed by Mr A surfaced in which he indicated he would refuse dialysis.
The hospital took the matter to the NSW Supreme Court to ensure the man's refusal of medical treatment was legal.
Today, Justice Robert McDougall found Mr A's directives should be followed "even if the likely consequence of giving effect to Mr A's wishes ... is that he will die".
In the documents, Mr A stated: "As one of Jehovah's Witnesses I direct my guardian to refuse consent for a transfusion of whole blood, red cells, white cells, platelets, or blood plasma to be given to me under any circumstances even if heath-care providers believe that such are necessary to preserve my life."
A member of Mr A's congregation, who he had appointed guardian and is known only as Mr T, agreed dialysis was not something his friend would have wanted.
"(Mr A) was a simple man with an uncomplicated way of living. However, he was adamant about the things he didn't want," he told the Sydney court.
Justice McDougall said he could not make a determination as to whether, according to beliefs held by Jehovah's Witnesses, there was any biblical proscription of the treatment.
But he said as a competent adult Mr A had a right to chose what medical treatments he received.
"A valid refusal may be based upon religious, social or moral grounds or indeed upon no apparent rational grounds; and is entitled to respect regardless," he said in his written judgment.
"(But) the hospital acted rightly in taking steps to preserve his life whilst seeking the court's decision."