Jehovah's Witness Died Refusing Blood 2-25-2002

Video Credit: WTNH

(WTNH, Feb. 25, 2002 11:00 PM) _ A healthy young woman goes into the hospital for a simple procedure done thousands of times a year, rarely with complications.

But the recent death of this local woman who had fibroid tumors removed from her uterus has members of her family blaming a religious group for not allowing doctors to do all they could to save her.

Team 8 Investigator Alan Cohn reports.
According to the statistics we've been able to find, major complications during this type of procedure happen less than one percent of the time. Rarer still, death.

That is why the family of this Southbury woman is asking why did she have to die and why were members of the Jehovah's Witnesses making life and death decisions on her behalf.

She was 44-years-old and the mother of two young children. On January 20th, Francoise San Fan Andre entered Danbury Hospital for a minor surgical procedure and died. Not because doctors couldn't save her, but because they weren't allowed to.

"They were allowing her to bleed to death. They were allowing her to die."

It's a death that has a grieving Connecticut family angry at the Jehovah's witnesses and doctors as well as nurses questioning the very foundation of their profession and hospital policy.

"They're trained in most cases to do everything they can to save patients lives. They were bound to honor her wishes."

Francoise San Fan Andre was born and raised a Catholic. But Monique Shay says her sister became a Jehovah's witness five years ago.

"She was a very spiritual person and she was always looking for answers.

And one of the religion's fundamental belief's is...

"One very important teaching from the scriptures is we follow what the book of acts says abstain from blood."

The Jehovah's Witnesses position on refusing blood transfusions is well known and in most cases the medical profession accommodates it. But in the case of Francoise San Fan Andre, her family claims she was pressured into signing documents ordering doctors not to give her a blood transfusion despite misgivings. They charge the Jehovah's Witnesses waited two hours to even contact them after something went terribly wrong.

"She came to me about three times and I wanted to make sure you have the blood transfusion. Her best friend, a nurse, Francoise make sure you have the blood transfusion. And every time we would, they would come back and re-assure her they knew the truth."

In the end San Fan Andre told doctors she didn't want blood even if it were to become necessary. She told her family, including her husband, not to go with her to the hospital. She signed a durable power of attorney like this one giving a Jehovah's Witness the right to make medical decisions for her in case something went wrong during surgery.

"They said they hit a vein and her blood pressure dropped."

The family claims doctors told them there was a desperate two hour effort save San Fan Andre's life.

"They opened her up and they had everybody possible to fix this but they couldn't do it without the blood."

Hospital employees who don't want to be identified say those who were there were distraught. Nurses were crying.

"They were begging we need blood. We need blood. But this woman, the guardian, wasn't going to make the decision or said she's not suppose to have blood. She called her elders and they came down that was like another 20-minutes. They said absolutely not this wasn't their beliefs."

San Fan Andre was eventually given blood when her husband and her family arrived and signed documents assuming legal responsibility for doctors to act. But it was too late. Sources say the damage was done. In the waiting room San Fan Andre's family confronted the Jehovah's Witnesses.

"I asked them to leave. I didn't want to share the same air as these murderers.".

"Certainly when a family member is at risk and death seems imminent or does take place it's going to bring out very deep emotions.

Jr Brown is the Jehovah's Witnesses national spokesman

"We want everything to possibly be done to preserve this life. But where we draw the line is when it comes to respect for God's laws that's what we base our belief on," says JR Brown.

But it's also true, as this web site shows, some Jehovah's Witnesses are openly questioning this long standing policy calling it "cruel."

As far as Danbury Hospital is concerned, in a statement to News Channel 8, the hospital says it "has a long standing policy regarding the treatment of any patient who is a Jehovah's Witness, which respects the patient's expressed beliefs. We believe strongly in the principles of informed consent, and are working continually to ensure that out consent policies support patient care in accordance with each patient's identified religious beliefs and advance directives."

However, some employees say privately, the hospital should never have agreed to operate on San Fan Andre under these conditions.

The fact is not all doctors or hospitals have handled similar cases in quite the same way. Some have given their patients blood transfusions despite expressed wishes not to.

And in some cases those doctors have paid a hefty price.

"There have been cases where the hospital for one reason or another that physicians have overridden that decision and sometimes they are sued sometimes by the patients who survived," says Zita Lazarini.

Lazarini, a medical ethicist at UConn, says she understands the emotional response of doctors and nurses at Danbury Hospital. But, she says the medical community has come to understand the right of patients to make their own decisions.

"If you change the facts just a little bit you can see how for most people they want to exercise that degree of control over their medical treatment.

But Monique Shay says her sister's resolve was the result intense pressure from the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Several days after she died Francoise San Fan Andre's funeral was held at St. Theresa's Catholic Church in Woodbury, in the tradition she was born into and lived most of her life. No one from the Jehovah's Witnesses was invited to attend.

We did speak to Franciose's husband, but he didn't want to go on camera. He says he may at some point. But right now the family is exploring their legal options. Options that most likely will include a law suit. The question is against who.