Patients Refusing Medical Attention: The Case of Jehovah's Witnesses in France
Medicine and Law: World Association for Medical Law 2004; 23(4): 715-723
Respect for the wishes of a patient is internationally accepted as standard medical practice. In French law, this principle is enshrined in the Civil Code of 1994 which concerns bioethics. More recently in 2002, we find it included in the Code of Public Health (in the law concerning patient's rights). According to these texts, the patient's wishes must always be respected even when his life is at stake, so long as the patient has been informed of the risk. The refusal by Jehovah's witnesses to receive blood transfusion always poses a problem. When, in full consciousness, a patient refuses a blood transfusion his life depends on, what should the doctor do? In June 1998, the Paris Administrative Court of Appeals ruled on such a case. The judges found that. In October 2001, the State Council decided in this particular case, that given the critical situation and the absence of a therapeutic alternative, the doctor had not committed an error. But it also clearly reiterated that the doctor is required to respect the wishes of the patient and that this obligation does not override the duty of saving a life. Two emergency interim rulings by the Lille Administration Court (25th August, 2002,) and by the State Council (6th August, 2002) confirm the position of the judges. Not respecting the patient's wishes is a great infringement of individual freedom. The doctor will not err only under extreme and precise conditions. Should the doctor go against those wishes? Should the wishes of the patient be respected when their life is at stake? The authors will discuss these two questions.
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