A baby boy was given a life saving blood transfusion under court order after his parents, who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, objected on religious grounds.
The order was made after a late night court sitting in the home of a High Court judge on 27 December. The written judgment was published today.
Mr Justice Gerard Hogan said the courts had the jurisdiction and the duty to override the religious beliefs of parents where a threat to the life and welfare of a child was concerned.
The baby, who became unwell on Christmas Day, was given the transfusion shortly after the hearing concluded before Mr Justice Gerard Hogan in the early hours of the morning on 27 December.
The child's condition has improved since and he is no longer critically ill, the court heard.
Mr Justice Hogan today outlined his reasons for granting the Children's University Hospital at Temple Street, Dublin, an order allowing the transfusion.
He also made orders preventing identification of the child.
While conscious of the constitutional requirement that justice be administered in public, he said a public hearing was impossible in the circumstances of this case, but he was delivering judgment in open court.
The baby boy was born in autumn 2010, but his twin sister died.
He became unwell due to acute bronchiolitis on Christmas Day. His condition deteriorated further that day and at one point he stopped breathing and had to be resuscitated.
He also had a hypoxic episode - a period of low oxygenation - which had ‘potentially ominous implications’.
The boy had been transferred from another hospital to Temple Street on 26 December, and his condition was critical that evening.
He suffered a drop in haemoglobin levels, affecting his ability to deliver oxygen to his vital organs and to maintain brain function.
The judge said the usual trigger for a blood transfusion is where haemoglobin levels drop below a certain point.
By 9pm on 26 December, a transfusion was ‘absolutely necessary’.
Mr Justice Hogan said while the child's parents were clearly anxious for his welfare and sought the best medical care, as committed Jehovah Witnesses they completely opposed a transfusion.
They had consented to the use of certain blood products earlier that day.
The hospital sought a court order allowing it administer a transfusion.
The emergency hearing took place in the judge's house at 1am on 27 December and lasted an hour and a half.
Doctors told the judge the baby's life was in danger and there was no medical alternative to a transfusion.
The parents told him they wanted the best for their child but, on religious grounds, could not consent to a transfusion.
The court had previously sanctioned a transfusion for another of the couple's children, and they seemed resigned it would order one, the judge noted.
The parents struck him as ‘wholesome and upright’ and most anxious for their child's welfare yet steadfast in their religious beliefs, the judge said.
An abhorrence of the administration of blood products was integral to those beliefs.
He said the Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and the free practice of religion.
It also gives parents the right to raise their children by reference to their own religious and philosophical views but that right was not absolute.
The State has a vital interest in ensuring that children are protected and that interest can prevail even in the face of express and fundamental constitutional rights, he said.
There was absolutely no doubt the court can intervene in a case where the child's life, general welfare and other vital interests are at stake, he said.
He said it was ‘incontestable’ the court had jurisdiction, ‘and indeed a duty’, to override the religious objections of the parents where adherence to these beliefs would threaten the life and general welfare of their child, he ruled.
On that basis, it was lawful for the hospital to administer a transfusion and other blood products to this baby.