Is the Croatian Medical law in harmony with the International comparative standards on the right to self-determination?

The example of Jehovah’s Witnesses patients


  • Petr Muzny University of Geneva


Are Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) outstanding patients? One might answer by the affirmative. Isn’t their refusal of blood transfusions, a treatment traditionally considered as a life-saving treatment, problematic both from the medical and legal viewpoint? But, traditions are not everlasting. Both modern medical science and legal standards have greatly improved during the last two decades. Over the last few years, JW medical choice has become standard treatment for many physicians specialized in bloodless surgeries. From the legal standpoint, laws and case-law worldwide has been moving in the same direction: a patient endowed with discernment has the absolute right to choose the treatment he/she deems the most appropriate according to his/her own personal values. In the light of this evolution worldwide, JW patients have become ordinary patients.

Since this is not the case in Croatia yet, this article seeks to put the Croatian legislation in harmony with the international standards by using the example of JW. It does so by answering five fundamental questions: 1) Should a JW patient be forced to undergo a blood transfusion against his or her will? 2) Should a JW patient be forced to undergo a blood transfusion in an emergency situation where life is at risk and the patient is unconscious? 3) Can a doctor refuse to treat a JW patient because the patient refuses to accept a treatment deemed life-saving? 4) Can a doctor be held liable for respecting a JW patient’s wishes if the patient dies? 5) Can a doctor be held liable for overriding a JW patient’s wishes and administering a blood transfusion by force?

Keywords: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Blood transfusion, Choice of treatment, Emergency treatment, Patient rights, Personal autonomy, Informed consent, Advance medical directive, Physicians, Conscience, Malpractice, Medical liability, Religion and medicine, Croatia, European Court of Human Rights, Jurisprudence, Legislation, Ethics, Comparative law