A pregnant Sydney woman died after refusing treatment that may have saved her unborn baby. It’s a distressing choice, but the alternative could be just as troubling.
Today, we learned about the death of a 28-year-old pregnant woman from Sydney. She didn’t die today. She died last year, or perhaps even earlier. But we are hearing her story now because of a letter two of the women’s doctors have written about the case.
The letter, published in a medical journal and reported today by the Sydney Morning Herald, tells of a woman who arrived at the Prince of Wales hospital at 28-weeks, suffering from pre-eclampsia – a severe complication of pregnancy. Things go from bad to worse when medical staff diagnosed acute promyeloctyic leukaemia.
She was offered a c-section. However, the woman was a Jehovah’s Witness who objected to the transfusion of blood. The team withdraw the offer, fearing the woman would bleed to death on the table. Instead, cancer treatment was begun. The fetus died shortly after and was expelled without incident but the woman ended up having a stroke and extreme fevers. Her organs failed and, on day 13, life support was withdrawn.
In their letter, the doctors talk about the devastation of the staff at what was perceived as two “avoidable” deaths. The distress of the woman’s loved ones, who had been expecting a new baby but instead found themselves organising a double funeral, can only be imagined.
It’s an understatement to say that the case raises some very difficult questions:
Were mistakes made?
Do patients have a legal and moral right to refuse medical interventions that could save their lives? Does this right trump all others, even when the patient in question is a pregnant woman?