When faith and medicine collide
ANY nurse can walk into a bad situation. The one Luanne Linnard-Palmer can’t forget came as she readied a little boy with sickle cell anaemia for a blood transfusion, only to be told by his mother, ‘‘You know you’re damning his soul to hell.’’
The child’s mother was a Jehovah’s Witness, a faith that rejects blood transfusions.
‘‘It blew me away,’’ LinnardPalmer recalls. ‘‘I worried not only about my own reaction but what was going to happen to this child with a lifelong disease.’’
The incident planted the seeds for a newly published book by the California nurse, When Parents SayNo:ReligiousandCulturalInfluences on Pediatric Healthcare Treatment.
In the case that was seminal to the book, doctors went to court and got a four-hour guardianship of the child so they could carry out the transfusion against his mother’s will. But the nurse who had been so affected by the case has no idea what happened to him after he went home.
The challenges she recounts are both religious and cultural.
A 14-year-old Muslim girl with severe burns on her arm was recovering after surgery until her parents heard the surgeon talk about a graft made with pig skin. They demanded it be removed and the girl was ultimately left with almost no function in her lower arm.
Linnard-Palmer, a paediatric nurse at California Pacific Medical Centre in San Francisco and a professor of nursing at Dominican University of California in San Rafael, believes that more time, training and money are being spent these days on helping medical personnel deal with religious and cultural issues when it comes to caring for children.
However Rita Swan, whose group — Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (www. childrenshealthcare. org) — tracks a wide range of cultural and religious problems affecting children, said the problem is still very difficult to measure, since some religious groups are not forthcoming and deaths due to treatment delays are not always recorded with that as the cause.
THOU SHALT NOT . . . some sects forbid medical intervention