[Original Publication Date: January 20, 2000]
A Jehovah’s Witness died after she refused to have a blood transfusion which would have saved her life, because it was against her religious beliefs.
Beverley Matthews, 33, of Stockport, Greater Manchester, was suffering from toxic shock syndrome when she was taken to Stepping Hill hospital with chronic sickness and diarrhoea last November.
She failed to respond to antibiotics and her condition deteriorated rapidly. Hospital consultants told her that she would have a 30% chance of survival if she had a blood transfusion, but she and her family refused. Mrs Matthews died several hours later.
At the inquest last week the coroner, John Pollard, recorded an open verdict. He said it was not clear whether the illness had been caused by a natural localised infection or by tampon use.
He said the consultant had been blunt enough to say death was inevitable, but Mrs Matthews and her family had refused treatment. He added that her condition was so serious that a transfusion may not have saved her.
Mrs Matthews was the mother of a four-year-old son, Jake, and lived with her husband, Ian, in Bredbury, Stockport. Her family had been Jehovah’s Witnesses for 25 years, although her husband is not thought to share her beliefs.
Philip Lewis, a consultant at Stepping Hill hospital, told the inquest: “She had an infection which was causing the blood to start destroying itself. The idea of the blood transfusion is to give you time for the antibiotics to work and for the poisons to clear.
“It buys you that time. It was a last-ditch attempt. But it was the only advised course and her only hope at the time.”
Mr Lewis said he had spoken to Mrs Matthews’s father, brother and one of the church elders who had visited the hospital.
Mrs Matthews’s mother, Marie Vernon, said yesterday: “I was looking for the truth and this religion gave me that. She made the right decision – she had to stick to her beliefs. Beverley was a lovely girl.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses base their beliefs on three passages in the Bible which order them to abstain from blood.
Derek Casey, a spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, said: “Jehovah’s Witnesses’ love of life moves them to seek the best medical treatment for themselves and their families. However, they respect and obey the plain scriptural command to abstain from blood.
“She loved life and in harmony with her religious beliefs, chose non-blood medical management of her condition.
“We deeply sympathise with Beverley Matthews’s family as they come to terms with their sudden and tragic loss.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses prefer to use their own blood in operations or they choose bloodless surgery – blood spilt during surgery is cleaned and returned to the body.
Last year, Ewan Opperman, a 19-year-old Jehovah’s Witness from South Africa, survived a liver transplant operation at St James’s hospital, Leeds, after the surgeon used plasma products and blood recycled from his own body.
Bloodless surgery is reported to increase the risk of death by between 35% and 40%. But for Mrs Matthews there was no alternative to a blood transfusion.