Boy, 11, Given Court-Ordered Transfusion : Parents Opposed Treatment Because of Religious Beliefs

Times Staff Writer

An 11-year-old boy was in good condition Tuesday after being airlifted from his home in the San Bernardino Mountains for a court-ordered blood transfusion that his parents opposed because of their religious convictions.

Gary and Jan Rossi, Jehovah’s Witnesses who opposed the transfusion for their son Brian, were at the boy’s bedside at Loma Linda University Medical Center on Tuesday.

Brian Rossi suffers from aplastic anemia, a condition in which the bone marrow fails to produce blood cells needed to fight infection and support other vital functions.


He received the transfusion Monday night after Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies went to his home in the southeastern Antelope Valley and took him by helicopter to the hospital.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carol J. Fieldhouse issued the order over the telephone permitting the medical treatment at the request of doctors, who said the boy’s life was in immediate danger, county officials said.

Denies Life in Danger

Gary Rossi said he believed that the doctors had rushed into giving his son the transfusion before it was necessary and that the court order had taken his rights away. Rossi denied that his son’s life was in danger.

“They’re making us look like neglectful parents mishandling a situation and like religious fanatics, which we’re not,” Rossi said.

Rossi, weary after dealing with reporters at the hospital Tuesday, said he had consulted with two lawyers but had not yet decided whether to take legal action.

Hospital spokesman David Schaefer described the case as routine. Hospital officials said similar emergency orders are issued over transfusions at their facility about four or five times a year.


“It happens every day in hospitals across the country,” Schaefer said. “The parents understand that the medical center is doing what we have to do under state law.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses oppose transfusions because they believe that the Bible prohibits the ingestion of blood under any circumstances, said a spokesman at the organization’s headquarters in New York City.

“The Bible says you do not eat blood,” said spokesman Merton Campbell. “I think the reasonableness of this is being shown today when it has been determined that there are many problems with blood, such as AIDS, hepatitis.”

The Rossis brought Brian to the hospital for a weekly blood test Monday, then left with him about 2 p.m. after they were told that he required a transfusion. Hospital officials contacted the Antelope Valley sheriff’s station, which dispatched deputies to the Rossi home in a remote area of Los Angeles County near the San Bernardino County line. The boy’s parents did not interfere with deputies, and Gary Rossi rode with his son in the helicopter, officials said.

Rossi praised the deputies for treating his son “with a lot of love.”

At the hospital, Rossi said, he objected when officials asked him to sign consent forms permitting a transfusion. At that point, authorities said, he was told that the boy was in protective custody. Doctors and a county social worker called the judge to obtain authorization for medical treatment, authorities said.

Fieldhouse said Tuesday that state laws--both the Penal Code and the Welfare and Institutions Code--clearly prohibit endangering the safety of a child because of religious convictions or otherwise.


“It’s well-settled that you can’t endanger the life and safety of a minor child, especially a small child,” Fieldhouse said.

‘Medical Input’

A judge “has to be completely satisfied that the child is being endangered. In this case, I was totally persuaded by medical input that the child was at immediate risk.”

The dispute presents a classic dilemma, Fieldhouse said.

“If an adult has a particular religious belief that endangers their own life and safety, they are welcome to carry that concept to their grave,” Fieldhouse said. “The sovereign state of California does become more protective when dealing with children.”

Hospital officials would not discuss the details of Brian’s case. In general, periodic transfusions that replenish the supply of vital cells in the blood are a common way of treating aplastic anemia, said Dr. Ravindra Rao of the Loma Linda hospital.

Transfusions can be critical in cases of infection or dangerously low cell counts, and can also improve a patient’s overall ability to function, he said. A bone marrow transplant is another way of attempting to combat the disease, doctors said.

Emery Bontrager, a spokesman for the county Department of Children’s Services, said the agency does not plan to take further action. “There is no evidence of child abuse or neglect,” he said.


Re-Examine Case

But if more transfusions are needed and the Rossis resist, Bontrager said, officials may re-examine the case to determine whether the boy is being endangered.

The Rossis are discussing what they will do if doctors say another transfusion is required.

“They’re going to have to get a court order,” Rossi said. “We’re not just going to let them do it.”

Brian will stay in the hospital until Friday because doctors plan to fit him with a catheter so he can be supplied with nutrition and medication by means other than injections, his father said.

The elder Rossi said he and his wife devote long hours to the care of Brian, who because of his condition spends most of his time at home. He said his son was energetic and in good spirits.

“He’s the same today as he was yesterday,” Rossi said.