Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Normative Function of Indirect Consent

Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics (forthcoming)
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In this case study, I consider Mr. A, a Jehovah’s Witness with chronic vertebral osteomyelitis in need of surgical debridement. Prior to proceeding to the OR, he was unwilling either to explicitly consent to or refuse blood transfusion, while indicating he was open to transfusion intraoperatively, if the team judged it necessary. Ethics was consulted to determine if it would be morally justifiable for the team to proceed with blood transfusion during the course of surgery without Mr. A’s documented consent to being transfused. I argue that in this case, what might be termed indirect consent—namely, delegating decision-making regarding some possible course of action without explicitly consenting to the course of action itself—may be sufficient for discharging the clinician’s ethical obligation to obtain consent. Identifying information has been changed or omitted to protect patient confidentiality.



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Joanna Smolenski
Baylor College of Medicine

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