The Right to Informed Consent Reaffirmed
A RECENT sentence pronounced by the Judge for Preliminary Investigations of the Court of Messina, Italy, has reaffirmed that the medical wishes of an adult patient are binding upon doctors. The ruling was issued in a case involving one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In January 1994, Antonino Stellario Lentini, a 64-year-old Witness hemophiliac patient, was rushed to a hospital in Taormina, Messina. Antonino’s wife, Catena, pointed out to the hospital staff that as Jehovah’s Witnesses she and her husband would not consent to blood transfusion treatment. (Acts 15:20, 28, 29) Their wishes were honored.
However, during transport to another health-care center, Antonino went into respiratory arrest and arrived in critical condition. Soon thereafter, he died. Catena was devastated, but she found great comfort in the Bible’s promise of a resurrection. (Acts 24:15) Then, to her great surprise, the magistrates—perhaps misled by incorrect news propagated by the media—accused her of causing the death of her husband because she refused surgery for him that the doctors deemed imperative.
After more than a year, on July 11, 1995, Catena was acquitted, as she had committed no crime. In fact, the testimony of experts pointed out that, considering the condition of the patient, surgical intervention would have been useless anyway.
But the judge’s statements got to the main issue. It is difficult to accept, he pointed out, the idea that medical personnel have to intervene when treatment is refused by the patient or by persons representing him. The medical deontological code in Italy, he added, “foresees the necessity of acquiring the informed consent of the interested person before any intervention.” Thus, he stated that Catena “lawfully prevented her husband from being subjected to such an operation.”
This judgment reaffirms the right of an adult to refuse medical treatment that conflicts with his or her wishes.