A New Zealand high court judge has ruled in favour of health authorities who sought guardianship of a baby boy after his parents refused to consent to a transfusion of “vaccinated blood” in a life-saving operation.
The landmark decision, delivered on Thursday, is expected to have wide-ranging ramifications and has become a focus of protests for anti-vaxxers who held demonstrations outside the courtroom.
The six-month-old known as Baby W will not survive without urgent surgery for a congenital heart defect. His parents said they were unwilling to proceed unless they were given a guarantee he would only receive blood from unvaccinated donors.
New Zealand’s health authorities and blood service argued that allowing the parents to refuse vaccinated blood would set a dangerous precedent, in which patients could demand to pick and choose where their blood came from.
The high court decision places the boy in the guardianship of his paediatric heart surgeon and cardiologist “for the purpose of consenting to surgery to address the obstruction and all medical issues related to that surgery, including the administration of blood” said Justice Ian Gault in a summary of the judgment.
That guardianship will last from Wednesday until completion of his surgery and post-operative recovery – likely to be January 2023 at the latest. The parents will retain guardianship in all other matters.
In previous interviews the parents said the baby needed surgery “almost immediately” but that they were “extremely concerned with the blood [the doctors] are going to use”.
Vaccines to prevent severe disease and death from Covid-19 have been found to be extremely safe and effective, with millions of people around the world vaccinated.
The judge noted that New Zealand’s blood service had presented evidence from the past six months of a “significant increase in potential blood recipients asking for blood from unvaccinated donors or asking about directed donation. Similar trends have been noted in other countries.”
The case was filed by the Auckland health service Te Whatu Ora. In a statement last week, interim director Dr Mike Shepherd said: “The decision to make an application to the court is always made with the best interests of the child in mind.”