State Supreme Court dismisses Jehovah’s Witnesses blood transfusion lawsuit

A Staten Island Justice has dismissed a 5-year-old lawsuit filed against Dr. Allen Fuchs and the Staten Island University Hospital at the state supreme court by a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Nancy DiGeronimo who was given a life-saving blood transfusion when complications arose after she gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
Nancy DiGeronimo, who gave birth at the University hospital on April 4, 2009, sued Dr. Fuchs and the Staten Island University, alleging that receiving blood transfusion conflicted with her religious beliefs. Ms. DiGeronimo argued in court that her choice of Dr. Fuchs and the University Hospital was informed by the information that they offered bloodless medical and surgical procedures and what is termed “cell-saver technology,” a procedure which recycles blood cells lost during surgery, by processing and re-infusing them into the patient.
Ms. DiGeronimo said that her religious beliefs prevented her from receiving “allogenic” blood products or any blood derived from another person and that she signed a health-care proxy in 1995 in which she stated explicitly that she would not receive any “allogenic” blood transfusion, only “autologous” blood transfusion, that is, transfusion with products derived from her own blood.
The hospital stated, however, that Ms. DiGeronimo never provided it with any of her own blood and that when she was first seen by Dr. Fuchs, she was already pregnant and was thus not eligible to donate blood. According to hospital records, Ms. DiGeronimo presented in hospital on April 3, 2004, with early onset labor and vaginal bleeding. Dr. Fuchs performed a cervical incision to aid delivery after he had given the patient antibiotic to prevent infection, but the patient continued bleeding heavily after delivery and other procedures adopted failed to stop the bleeding. According to records, Ms. DiGeronimo was told that she would die if she did not receive allogenic transfusion. She nodded her approval but being too weak to speak or sign a consent form, her husband acting as health care proxy signed the form. DiGeronimo, however, later claimed that she had no recollection of giving her consent.
State Supreme Court Justice Joseph J. Maltese, pronouncing judgment on the protracted case on Thursday dismissed the suit, ruling that the action of the doctor did not deviate from accepted standards of care and that Ms. DiGeronimo had not shown the court how blood transfusion harmed her.
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.
Irene Ziegler of Bloomfield-based Amabile and Erman, Dr Allen Fuchs’ lawyer, expressed her happiness at the court’s decision: “I think the judge made the correct decision,” she said.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses are notorious in medical services circles for their religious objection to blood transfusions.They hold a theological belief that the Bible prohibits the ingestion of blood and that this prohibition extends to storing, receiving and donation of blood. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are typically uncompromising in their insistence that transfusion of whole blood or its components–red cells, white cells, platelets and plasma–are against God’s law, even cases in which such transfusion is needed to save life. Members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who, in emergency, voluntarily accept blood transfusion are immediately disfellowshipped as apostates and shunned by other members of the group. The group, however, believes that the use of some blood fractions such as albumin, imunoglobulins and hemophiliac preparations are matters of personal choice.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have established Hospital Information Services to promote bloodless surgical procedures in the medical profession. They also have Hospital Liaison Committees to provide support to adherents on hospital admission, and who may be under pressure to take blood transfusions.

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