Nursing often deals with ethical dilemmas in the clinical arena. A case study demonstrates an ethical dilemma faced by healthcare providers who care for and treat Jehovah's Witnesses who are placed in a critical situation due to medical life-threatening situations. A 20-year-old, pregnant, Black Hispanic female presented to the Emergency Department (ED) in critical condition following a single-vehicle car accident. She exhibited signs and symptoms of internal bleeding and was advised to have a blood transfusion and emergency surgery in an attempt to save her and the fetus. She refused to accept blood or blood products and rejected the surgery as well. Her refusal was based on a fear of blood transfusion due to her belief in Bible scripture. The ethical dilemma presented is whether to respect the patient's autonomy and compromise standards of care or ignore the patient's wishes in an attempt to save her life. This paper presents the clinical case, identifies the ethical dilemma, and discusses virtue ethical theory and principles that apply to this situation.
"Juana" (fictitious name) a 20-year-old, Black Hispanic female, 32 weeks pregnant, was brought to the emergency department (ED) in an ambulance by the paramedics. She arrived in the ED immobilized on a flat board with a hard cervical collar in place. Juana was the driver of a sedan involved in a single-vehicle collision. She stated she was driving at approximately 60 miles per hour on the highway and suddenly lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a light pole. She also stated her head hit the windshield and shattered the glass. She denied loss of consciousness. Upon her arrival in the ED, Juana was alert and oriented to person, place, and time and had a Glasgow Coma Scale of 15/15. Her initial complaints were lightheadedness, weakness, left shoulder pain, and severe abdominal cramping that started immediately following the car accident. She had a past medical history of sickle cell disease and no previous pregnancies. Her lungs were clear bilaterally. Juana's heart rate was 90 beats per minute (bpm), her respiratory rate was 28, and her initial blood pressure (BP) was 130/80, and fetal pulse rate was 90. Once the cervical spine films were taken and the flat board was removed, her BP reflected orthostatic changes of 100/60 and pulse of 120 bpm.
Diagnosis and interventions
Juana was placed on a 100% nonrebreather mask. Peripheral intravenous lines were started bilaterally to replace fluid loss that was indicated by the change in vital signs. It was suspected that she was bleeding internally into her thoracic or abdominal cavity. Blood specimens were drawn and sent to the laboratory. A hemoglobin of 6 g/dl and hematocrit of 21% indicated internal bleeding. Ultrasound showed blood in the amniotic cavity and Doppler confirmed a fetal heart rate of 90 bpm indicating fetal distress. The patient was informed by the medical team of the critical nature of her condition.
The plan of care for her was an immediate blood transfusion and an emergency cesarean section. Matters became complicated when Juana informed the medical team that she was a Jehovah's Witness and refused the proposed plan of care. The physician then recommended the use of alternative blood products. Juana insisted that this was also against her religion and she refused the alternative treatments being offered. The medical team advised her that Jehovah's Witnesses could choose certain blood byproducts, such as albumin, cryoprecipitate, and globulin (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 2004).
According to Juana and her husband, both believed that if she accepted the blood transfusion or blood products she would no longer be a Jehovah's Witness and would be condemned to hell. The husband then presented the physician with Juana's blood card, created by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society,...