MARCH 5, 2001 VOLUME 8, NUMBER 36
Maria Isabel Duran was a devout Jehovah’s Witness. The 34-year-old New York woman believed, along with most members of her faith, that the Bible prohibits transfusions of blood or blood products, even when life is threatened.
Ms. Duran also needed a liver transplant operation. Her faith does not teach that organ transplants are prohibited, and so Ms. Duran searched for a medical facility that would recognize her medical and spiritual needs. She learned that the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center had performed transplants on Jehovah’s Witnesses without transfusions.
Knowing that her husband did not share her religious convictions, Ms. Duran took precautions to ensure that she would not receive blood transfusions. She named a friend as her agent for health care decisions, and her health care power of attorney included strong language making her refusal clear. "I absolutely, unequivocally and resolutely refuse homologous blood (another person’s blood) and stored autologous blood (my own stored blood) under any and all circumstances, no matter what my medical condition," wrote Ms. Duran (the provisions in bold print here were in bold in her original power of attorney).
Immediately after the 1999 transplant Ms. Duran’s body began to reject her new liver, and her condition declined precipitously. She lapsed into a coma, and her health care agent was called upon to consent to a second transplant operation. Before that operation Ms. Duran’s physicians decided that she needed an immediate transfusion.
Presumably realizing that Ms. Duran’s health care agent would refuse permission for a blood transfusion, her husband instead filed an emergency guardianship proceeding with the Pennsylvania courts. An attorney was appointed to represent Ms. Duran, and her physician, husband and sister all testified to the need for a blood transfusion. Her health care agent was not notified about the legal proceeding. After a brief hearing the judge approved transfusions. Ms. Duran’s health care agent objected, but transfusions continued during the ensuing legal maneuvers. Ms. Duran died three weeks later.
Despite the death of Ms. Duran her health care agent pursued an appeal of the order permitting transfusions. Recognizing that the situation could arise again, and that it was important to have some legal resolution of the dispute, the Pennsylvania Superior Court accepted jurisdiction of the case.
That court ruled that the crystal-clear language of Ms. Duran’s health care power of attorney should have been enforced. Furthermore, Ms. Duran’s health care agent was entitled to be notified of the proceedings and defend her wishes in court. Although Ms. Duran did not survive the operation or the legal proceedings, her case reinforces the right of patients to control their own treatment. In Re Duran, February 21, 2001.