Jehovah’s Witnesses and blood transfusions for 16- and 17-year-olds: E & F

In a guest post, Elijah Z Granet looks at the latest case on blood transfusions and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Introduction

Can a minor approaching the age of 18 refuse to consent to life-saving blood transfusion on religious grounds stemming from membership in the Jehovah’s Witnesses? In E & F (Minors: Blood Transfusion) [2021] EWCA Civ 1888, the Court of Appeal examined this question of the clash of Gillick competence and the inherent jurisdiction of the Court (not, pace McEwan, the Children Act).

Facts

The facts of the two appeals are straightforward: E & F were aged 16 years 8 months and 17 years 5 months, respectively, and required emergency medical treatment which might involve blood transfusion. Both E & F objected, as practising Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the hospitals involved sought and received High Court declarations authorising the use of blood transfusions against the patients’ will, on the basis of the Court’s inherent jurisdiction. These declarations proved unnecessary, as no complications arose which required transfusion, but E & F remained aggrieved that the declarations were ever made in the first place, regarding them as an infringement of their autonomy.

Decision

For Sir Andrew McFarlane P, delivering the judgment of the Court, the starting point on the necessity of protecting a minor’s welfare was Re W (A Minor) (Medical Treatment: Court’s Jurisdictions) [1993] Fam 64, where an anorexic teenager attempted to refuse treatment for her condition. The facts were not precisely amenable to the present case—for a start, anorexia is a mental disorder which removes capacity of choice—but the dicta of the presiding judges indicated that the Court must first protect the life of the child even when that involves overriding the child. Continue reading