For Immediate Release
March 29, 2001
Nigerian Supreme Court unanimously affirms patient's right to choose medical treatment
BENIN CITY—On March 2, 2001, the nation’s highest court handed down a landmark decision that a patient has a constitutional right to object to a specific medical treatment such as a blood transfusion. The Court ruled that a patient’s freedom of choice is founded on fundamental rights protected by the 1979, and now the 1999, Constitution. The five Justices of the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal, Lagos, in a case involving a charge of “infamous conduct” brought against a medical doctor for failing to administer a blood transfusion to a patient.
The patient, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, refused a blood transfusion for religious reasons. The hospital discharged her in critical condition after ten days. Treatment was continued at another hospital. by a doctor who is also one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She died after four days. Her mother and uncle brought the Witness doctor before the Medical and Dental Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal, where he was found guilty of “infamous conduct.” He appealed, and the Court of Appeal quashed the Tribunal’s decision.
The Tribunal then appealed to the Supreme Court, which upheld the Court of Appeal’s decision. Delivering the lead judgment, Justice Emmanuel Ayoola stated: “That the patient’s consent is paramount has been determined in several cases in the United States of America where this area of law has received considerable judicial attention.” Justice Samson Uwaifo went on to hold that forcibly proceeding to apply treatment “of a radical nature such as surgery or a blood transfusion” to a patient without consent would “amount to a trespass to the patient.” He further observed that the doctor “understood the situation and did his best to treat her” when she “wanted treatment other than by blood transfusion.” Justice Ayoola noted that the Tribunal was not helpful when it asked that the doctor either terminate treatment of the patient or transfer her because of her request.
Mr. Daniel Odibe, lead counsel for the respondent observed: “With the growing awareness of the hazards of blood transfusion, such as the transmission of blood-borne pathogens and suppression of the immune system, this decision is a signal service to patients who opt for nonblood treatment. It is a boon to doctors who take advantage of advancements in medical knowledge and use nonblood therapies that avoid the risks associated with blood transfusions when treating Witnesses and others not wanting blood.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses have a program for assisting doctors who have indicated their willingness to treat patients without using blood. Under this program over 4,000 doctors in Nigeria are provided with literature that details the latest medical advances in bloodless medicine and surgery.
Contact: J. R. Brown, telephone: (718) 560-5600