Given Dennis’s rough start in life, Diekema said he wondered if Dennis was refusing blood to maintain his relationship with his aunt and his standing in a church community that provided him social support and nurture.
“He may not feel as obligated to make that same decision when he’s 30,” Diekema said.
One afternoon, Lindberg said, she called the oncology ward to speak with Dennis. The nurse who answered the phone told her that Jehovah’s Witnesses sat with Dennis day and night. The nurse said she had heard a Witness tell Dennis that accepting blood would make him unclean.
“Mrs. Lindberg,” the nurse said, “I’m telling you this because I’m a grandmother, and what they’re doing to your grandson is unforgivable.”
Diekema, the ethicist, told me he hoped there wouldn’t be another case like this one.
“A life was extinguished,” he told me when we met at the Starbucks at Children’s. For him that was the bottom line: A kid died when he didn’t have to.
Diekema quoted a U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1944, a case that involved Jehovah’s Witness children: “Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children.”