Jehovah's Witness girl doomed by transfusion refusal

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A Jehovah's Witness died after an in-line skating accident because her family refused to let her have a blood transfusion, an inquest heard yesterday.

A doctor said he pleaded with the family to allow her a transfusion which would have given her a 90-per-cent chance of survival. Emelie Grootjes, 19, broke both legs after she lost control of her skates going down a hill on 31 July. A Dutch student, she had been on holiday at Lockley Park caravan park, Hamworthy, Dorset, with her mother, father, brother and sister, all Jehovah's Witnesses.

The inquest at Bournemouth was told she was taken to Poole General Hospital, where she died from fat-embolism syndrome five days later. East Dorset coroner Nigel Neville-Jones heard that fat and marrow from her bones had entered her blood system before jamming up around her lungs.

Charles Blakeway, a consultant surgeon, described an operation designed to bind her legs and stop more fat getting into the bloodstream. "We would normally give a transfusion straight away. The transfusion was refused from the outset because she was a Jehovah's Witness. If consent is declined then we are stuck."

The next day he noticed problems with Emelie and her lungs began to deteriorate. She died later in intensive care. "The refusal of the blood transfusion contributed to her death in my opinion."

Barry Newman, head of the intensive-care unit, said: "Somebody as young and fit as her, if she had received all the therapies we could give, then I would have given her chances as 90 per cent. When I first met her I was made aware that she was a Jehovah's Witness. Her parents had signed a form saying she would not take blood or blood products."

Dr Newman said he regretted not telling her the first time he met her of the "brutal facts" that her life could depend on the blood and plasma. Her father, Cornelius, said: "We accept other treatment but not blood or blood products. I think the situation with blood is not so black or white as it looks. I think the doctors did all they could and I am very happy with all that they did."

Mr Neville-Jones said a post-mortem examination gave the cause of death as fat-embolism syndrome. He referred to a High Court Judge's ruling, saying: "The right of the individual is paramount. She was entitled in her rights to refuse the transplants which were offered to her." He recorded a verdict that she died as the result of an accident "the consequences of which were contributed by the refusal of blood transfusions on religious grounds".