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No blood transfusion for Watchtower – Court

Filed under: Special Comments |

By Dickson Jere

An octogenarian man was a staunch Jehovah’s Witness. He, therefore, gave written instructions (Durable Power of Attorney of Health Care) that he should never ever be given blood transfusion when sick. In his ailing stage – he suffered from prostate cancer. And so when he was taken at University Teaching Hospital (UTH), his vows remained intact and his family informed the doctors that blood transfusion was a big NO!

Dr Francis Manda was a renowned and celebrated Zambian urologist. He so happened to have been the one treating the sick old man. In his professional assessment, only blood transfusion could have saved the life of the old man. Against the written instructions of the patient and his family, Dr Manda carried out the blood transfusion based on his professional decision. And as fate would have it, the patient died in 2007.

The family of the deceased – in 2008 – sued Dr Manda, UTH and Attorney General on the grounds that the blood transfusion was done against the will of the patient as well as his religious beliefs. Bible verses were quoted to buttress the point. The family demanded for damages and compensation for assault and battery inflicted on the patient.

The High Court threw out the case on the basis that the right claim should have been made under the Constitution through a petition.

Unhappy with the decision, the family climbed the judicial ladder and filed an appeal in the Court of Appeal assailing the lower Court decision.

A panel of three Judges had to decide on this unique case.
“As a primary matter, all patients have constitutional right to determine what shall and shall not be done them,” the Judges held.

“This right extends to any treatment that may save the patient’s life. That includes blood transfusions which are particularly important in circumstances involving Jehovah’s Witness patients,” the Court ruled.

The Judges observed that this right in other countries is called “self-determination” and is recognized as a right of patients to refuse certain treatment even when faced with life-threatening illness.

“Consent to treatment is widely regarded as the cornerstone of doctor-patient relationship,” the Judges said, adding that exceptions exist where patient is pregnant, of unsound mind or not competent to give consent.

The Judges found that the doctor is liable if he interferes with the body of the patient without consent and therefore Dr Manda, UTH and Attorney General were liable in tort.

“We opine that the 1st Respondent (Dr Manda) by disregarding the Appellant (patient) wishes, violated the Appellant right over his body,” the Court ruled and awarded the family K300,000 in damages.

Case Citation – Brenda Kachasu (suing as Administrator of the Estate of the late Paul Kachasu) v Mwelwa Manda (sued as Administrator of the Estate of the late Dr Francis Manda) and others – Appeal No. 136 of 2021 and judgement delivered on 30th August, 2023.

This is a very important case for hospitals as well as medical facilities in Zambia and Doctors as it gives guidance on how to deal with Jehovah’s Witnesses who are patients. It also provides an insight that patients have a right to refuse treatment even when faced with life threatening illnesses.


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