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OMAHA - A 7-year-old boy with sickle cell anemia has spent the last week in
foster care after his mother refused to consent to a blood transfusion because
of her religion.
Martez LeFlore has been receiving blood transfusions twice a day after police
took custody away from his mother, who would allow only alternative
treatments because she and the boy are Jehovah's Witnesses.
Members of the religion refuse blood transfusions as being against the Bible,
citing passages that say it is wrong to ingest blood.
Such beliefs are considered when it comes to emergency health care, but police
still have authority on whether the child gets treatment.
"Ultimately, we're responsible for making a life-and-death decision," said Lt.
Mike Butera, who oversees Omaha medical neglect investigators. "When it
comes down to it, we are going to do what we believe is legally in the best
interest of the child."
Anika LeFlore brought Martez to University Hospital on April 21 after the boy,
who had been sick with flu symptoms for several days, complained he couldn't
Doctors told her that Martez's heart was enlarged, his red-blood cell count was
low and he needed a transfusion. LeFlore said she would allow other
treatments, but not a transfusion.
"I said 'no' to the end - 'no blood, no blood, no blood' - all the way to the end.
I want these other treatments," LeFlore said.
Doctors called police, who around 4 a.m. got the boy in foster care so he could
be treated. Martez continues to get transfusions twice a day.
LeFlore thinks police and social workers overstepped their bounds.
"I don't want my child to die," the 31-year-old mother said. "I brought him to
the hospital for treatment. I just want these alternative treatments."
Martez has had sickle cell anemia since birth, his mother said. The disease
causes red blood cells to be deformed, which can cause a variety of symptoms,
including fatigue, dizziness and weakness.
Alternative treatments such as medications, artificial blood and different surgical
techniques are available but require planning, said Harlan Haupt, an overseer
with the Jehovah's Witness Fontenelle congregation.
Butera said police carefully consider whether the child could die, why the
parent is refusing to consent and whether the child is old enough to have his or
her own opinion.
"This wasn't a rash decision just based on our hearts and our feelings," Butera
said. "It was a rational decision that we made in consultation with others based
on the medical personnel's opinion that death was imminent."
The U.S. Supreme Court repeatedly has ruled that the child's health outweighs
a parent's right to religion, said Catherine Brooks, a Creighton University
professor specializing in children and family law.
"The parents have a right to believe, the parents have a right to teach, the
parents have a right to practice," she said, "but they can't impose that practice
in cases in which the state believes the children's health to be at risk."