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Willie and Tanya Thomas, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Atlanta, have asked Fulton County Superior Court Judge Bensonetta Tipton Lane to grant a new trial on the emergency petition for relief the court granted Grady Memorial Hospital in its treatment of their son Leland A. Thomas. An order authorizing Grady Hospital doctors to give blood to an unconsciousJehovah’s Witness despite objections threatens all patients’ rights, theparents’ lawyer said. Sarah Mallas Wayman, who represents the parents, said, “This really affectseverybody’s medical rights.” If a judge can authorize blood transfusions forthis unconscious patient without consent from his next of kin, so can a judge amputate a patient’s leg, regardless of objections from the patient’srepresentatives, she said. Lawyers for the hospital brought the petition March 6, 2002, after the Thomases repeatedly denied doctors permission to give their son blood transfusions, in accordance with his religious beliefs. Lane granted the petition that same day. In Re Leland Anthony Thomas, No. 02CV49992 (Fult. Super. March 6, 2002). But in the Thomases’ petition, Wayman noted that no one ever notified her clients that the hospital was seeking this order. The court deprived Leland Thomas, who died March 8, of his right to refuse treatment and his constitutional rights to privacy, free exercise of religion, bodily integrity and due process, Wayman wrote. A hearing is set on the motion for April 22. “Despite the gravity of the individual rights involved, the March 6 order was issued in the most informal fashion. Without notice to Mr. Thomas or hisparents, an attorney for Petitioner simply walked into Fulton County Superior Court, explained her cause, and has an emergency treatment order signed ex parte. No hearing of any kind was ever conducted,” she wrote. Wayman said her clients are bringing their motion for a new trial out of “public and community interest.” They have not sought any damages, she said.”What they want is for this not to happen to someone else,” she said. “They want the rights of everybody respected.” A victory, Wayman said, would remind the hospitals and the courts that people have the right to refuse medical treatment. It also would reinforce that if a patient is unconscious, the next of kin should be able to convey that patient’s wishes to doctors. The Daily Report contacted the corporate communications and legal departments at Atlanta’s Grady Hospital and asked what the hospital’s policy is in regard to incapacitated adults who refuse treatment. Grady representatives did not provide the information before press time. SEVERELY INJURED IN CAR WRECK Leland Thomas was severely hurt March 4, when his car veered into an embankment in Jackson County while traveling southbound on Interstate 85, not far from state Route 53. Thomas, 19, was baptized a Jehovah’s Witness at age 16. According to affidavits from his parents and the leader of the NorthlakeCongregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Atlanta, Thomas was an active churchmember who taught Bible classes and spoke to groups about his faith. Leland also accepted his faith’s belief that God forbids people to accept blood from another person, the affidavits said. “Whenever the subject came up, Leland consistently expressed his desire to avoid blood transfusions, regardless of the consequences,” Wayman wrote. Thomas also signed a document stating, “I direct that no blood transfusions (whole blood, red cells, white cells, platelets or blood plasma) be given to me under any circumstances, even if physicians deem such necessary to preserve my life or health.” He carried the document with him in his wallet, with the signatures of twowitnesses and contact information for his parents. Somehow, in the course of the accident, that card was lost, though Thomas’ wallet was found. Emergency medical technicians airlifted Thomas to Grady Memorial Hospital. When his parents arrived there about two hours after the wreck, they learned that surgeons, not knowing of Leland’s religious affiliation, had given him three units of blood. One of the surgeons who worked on Thomas told his parents she would inform the emergency room team that there were to be no more transfusions. However, later that day, according to court documents, ER surgeon Dr. John Toole explained to the Thomases that their son had a lacerated liver, a broken left femur, a ruptured spleen, a torn aorta and bruised lungs. He also explained that the hospital had continued giving their son blood, and that Grady’s lawyers were in the process of getting a court order authorizing them to do so. Despite the Thomases’ repeated requests, hospital doctors continued giving Leland Thomas blood transfusions. PARENTS APPEAL TO HOSPITAL Two days later, with Thomas in critical condition, the Thomases tried topersuade Dr. Jeffrey P. Salomone, chief of general surgery at Grady, to honor their son’s wishes. According to Willie Thomas’ affidavit, Salomone said he would continue giving Leland transfusions unless a court ordered him to stop. The Thomas’ offered Salomone medical articles about non-blood alternatives and how their son could be operated on without transfusions, but he refused them, according to the complaint. Carl W. Bruce, associate director of the Hospital Information Services Department at the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ World Headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y.,said this kind of conflict is rare. Generally, he said, doctors are sensitive to the religious beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Most of the time, if the patient is an adult, there are not any problems,” he said. After the meeting with Salomone, the Thomases met with Grady Associate General Counsel Stacy Y. Perry. She told them that she was unaware of any standing court order on March 4 that would allow the hospital to give Leland Thomas blood. However, she said, the hospital would obtain one, Wayman’s complaint alleged. TRANSFUSIONS AUTHORIZED Later that day a hospital administrator informed the Thomases that a judge had issued an order authorizing the transfusions. Judge Lane’s order noted that Thomas “is extremely in need of blood transfusions and/or blood products. However, the parents of said individual, because of their religious beliefs, [refuse] to allow the said Hospital to administer the transfusion.” The problem, Wayman argued, is that the Thomases didn’t have the opportunity to present any evidence to the judge. They weren’t present to explain theirreasoning. No one had told them when hospital lawyers would be asking the judge for an order. “Although the Thomases were generally informed that Grady intended to seek acourt order on Wednesday, March 6, 2002, they were told nothing about when,where or before whom the petition would be made,” Wayman wrote. It would have been easy to do so, Wayman wrote; The Thomases had been at thehospital all that Wednesday, including when Lane signed the order, and when they were told she’d signed the order. Because the Thomases hadn’t been in court, Wayman wrote, they were unable tocounter the hospital’s claims that “[I]t is unknown … if the patient himself has the same religious beliefs as his parents or if he would consent to receiving a blood transfusion … if he were able.” Thomas’ parents and friends could have explained what the patient’s desire would have been, Wayman wrote. “Leland Anthony Thomas’ incapacity did not negate the cherished beliefs, values and goals that were at the center of his life,” Wayman wrote. Despite the continued transfusions, Thomas’ condition worsened. His heartstopped repeatedly, and doctors had progressively more trouble reviving him. On March 7, the Thomases agreed to let the hospital take their son off arespirator. He died shortly after. Bruce said that church leaders do their best to encourage Jehovah’s Witnesses to update their advance medical directive cards frequently, to remove any doubt about their most recent intentions with regard to accepting blood transfusions. The idea, he said, is to minimize conflicts like the Thomases’. “Liability is always a concern for hospitals — and justifiably so,” he said. “Our document states that we release them from any liability for not performing a transfusion.”

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