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A Jehovah’s Witness seeking damages for receiving a blood transfusion against his wishes — a procedure the surgeon claimed saved the man’s life — will get a new trial, the South Carolina Supreme Court decided. The court reversed a trial judge who granted the vascular surgeon a directed verdict on claims of breach of contract, lack of informed consent, malpractice and medical battery. The surgeon had testified that he knew the patient was a Jehovah’s Witness but got proper authorization for the transfusion from the man’s mother after the patient became unconscious and lost 30 percent of his blood. IN LINE WITH PRECEDENT The state high court’s decision is in line with opinions in at least three other states that have affirmed the right of religious patients to dictate the extent of their medical care, said Donald T. Ridley, associate general counsel for the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York. Watchtower is the administrative organization for 6 million Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide. “South Carolina just adds on to the growing body of law … that shows you do respect a patient’s decision that is clear and based on their religious values,” Ridley said. “It kind of adds to the momentum that’s been growing since the mid-’80s.” The surgeon’s lawyers, attorneys with the Columbia, S.C., firm of Richardson, Plowden, Carpenter & Robinson, did not return calls. Charles E. Carpenter Jr. had argued before the South Carolina Supreme Court in April that the patient should have used a living will to dictate permissible care in critical situations. The hospital’s forms applied only to elective surgery, he said. The plaintiff, Charles Harvey, had surgery in 1997 to remove a blockage in his carotid artery. Before the procedure, he signed several forms refusing blood and blood products and acknowledging that he understood the potentially life-threatening risks of doing so. His doctor, Glen Strickland, testified that he was aware of Harvey’s religious beliefs but said Harvey had told him he’d consider a transfusion. Harvey, a Jehovah’s Witness since 1995, believes the Bible’s respect for blood and life prohibits transfusions. There are about 1 million Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States and more than 14,000 in South Carolina. While recovering in the hospital after the surgery, Harvey suffered a stroke. He underwent additional surgery authorized by his mother — listed on his medical paperwork as his emergency contact — and bled heavily, losing as much as a third of his blood. Strickland sought permission from Harvey’s mother to perform a transfusion. Knowing her son’s medical beliefs, she initially refused but eventually assented. Harvey, a skilled machinist, recovered completely. The case went to trial in 2000. The judge issued a directed verdict for the defense on claims of breach of contract and lack of informed consent. When the jury deadlocked, the judge granted a directed verdict for the surgeon on the remaining claims of malpractice and medical battery. The judge was wrong on all counts, the state’s high court held, saying a jury should decide the issues, Harvey v. Strickland, No. 25491 (S.C. Sup. Ct.). The opinion by Justice John H. Waller Jr. rejected Strickland’s claim that he could not be held liable because he obtained a relative’s consent. He cited the state’s Health Care Consent Act, which affirms “a legislative intent that a patient’s wishes against medical treatments or intervention, when made known to a physician prior to surgery, must be followed by the attending physician.” Harvey’s attorney, Calvin A. Rouse, a solo practitioner in Augusta, Ga., said his client “feels vindicated … . All he wanted was to be left alone.” Juries have shown a reluctance to make large awards in cases where the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses clash with standard medical practice. Awards of $5,000 to as much as $80,000 are typical compensation for emotional suffering, Ridley said.

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