FORCING SANITY ON THE WITNESSES
Judge OKs transfusion for wife of Jehovah's Witness
Husband objects because of a Bible teaching
By TONY LEYS
REGISTER STAFF WRITER
August 18, 2006
A judge has ruled that a comatose Clinton
woman may receive a blood transfusion, despite her husband's objections that
transfusions are against God's will.
Tawnya Nissen has been unconscious since July 31, when she collapsed because of a bad reaction to a diet drug. She is being cared for at University Hospitals in Iowa City.
Doctors told the family that she might need a blood transfusion if she had to undergo a tracheotomy or other emergency surgery. Her husband, Chris, objected, saying that as a Jehovah's Witness, she was forbidden to have such a transfusion. The religion cites the Bible in teaching that God told his followers not to partake in blood.
Tawnya Nissen has not needed a transfusion, and her condition has improved. But she remains unconscious, and her father — who is not a Jehovah's Witness — asked a judge to give him, rather than her husband, the power to decide on her treatment.
Both sides agree that Nissen has studied the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses but has not been baptized as one. They disagree over how committed she is to the religion's stance against blood transfusions.
Chris Nissen's lawyer, Frank Santiago, said Tawnya Nissen often has gone door-to-door, preaching the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses. He said that before she gave birth to her son by Caesarean section five years ago, she signed a statement saying she did not want a transfusion.
Santiago said she also signed a card identifying herself as a Jehovah's Witness and saying she did not want blood. But her husband has been unable to find that card, Santiago said.
"No one's listening to Tawnya's voice," Santiago said. "Tawnya's calling out for no blood."
Her aunt, Becky Reid of Clinton, said Tawnya told her sister recently that she would want a transfusion if it was necessary to save her life or her son's life.
Reid said relatives at first were uncomfortable when Tawnya Nissen became involved with the Jehovah's Witnesses several years ago. "But we accepted that it was her choice," Reid said.
However, Reid said, Tawnya Nissen seemed less committed to the religion than her husband was. "We feel if she was that interested in converting, she would have been baptized."
Reid said the issue came to a head after her niece collapsed and doctors raised the possibility of a blood transfusion. "They said, 'Well, if there's a need, she could lose her life.' We just couldn't let that happen."
Johnson County District Judge Marsha Beckelman ruled Tuesday that Tawnya Nissen's father, Richard Reid, should be granted temporary guardianship to make medical decisions until Nissen regains consciousness.
Beckelman noted the conflicting testimony of Nissen's husband and sister.
"It is impossible from the hearing record for the court to definitively conclude that Ms. Nissen would either accept or decline blood transfusions, should it become necessary to save her life," the judge wrote.
Beckelman also wrote that Chris Nissen has the right to be present during discussions of his wife's care.
Noelle Murray, a Coralville lawyer, was appointed to serve as Tawnya Nissen's attorney. Murray, who had never met her client before the case, said she did not know what Nissen would want. At the hearing, Murray argued in favor of allowing a transfusion, if needed.
"The bottom line is we don't know what her wishes were, and she may wake up and be upset" if a transfusion was ordered, Murray said.
Santiago, Chris Nissen's lawyer, said everyone was heartened by Tawnya's slow but promising recovery. It could take weeks, but she is expected to regain consciousness, he said.
"Let's hope she can straighten all this out," he said of the controversy over her treatment.
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