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May 8, 2011

Rare case sheds light on religion, medicine: Man opposes his wife receiving blood

JEFFERSONVILLE — Fifty-eight-year-old Charlestown resident Bruce Huff believes it is a sin to receive any blood or blood products. When his wife, 58-year-old Candy Huff, became unconscious several weeks ago and was rushed to Clark Memorial Hospital, he wrote a letter to the staff telling them not to give her blood transfusions.

The hospital filed a petition in Clark County Circuit Court asking that someone be appointed to make medical decisions for Candy Huff, alleging Bruce Huff was unable to make decisions in her best interest. Bruce Huff believes the decision to not allow him to make medical decisions for his wife is because of his religious beliefs.

 The hospital flatly denies that claim.

“I love Candy. I told them to do absolutely anything to save her life except give her blood or blood products,” Bruce Huff said.

Bruce Huff was baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness several decades ago, and although he only sometimes attends church now for health reasons and does not consider himself a member, he still shares the beliefs of the church. According to the official website of the church,  www.watchtower.org, the belief is based on their interpretation of the Bible, especially Acts 15, which reads to “keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood” and Leviticus 17 which reads to “not partake of the blood of any flesh.”

There have been numerous court rulings across the country dealing with Jehovah’s Witnesses and blood transfusions, mostly whether they can refuse on behalf of their children.

Among numerous other conditions, Candy Huff was diagnosed with poly-pharmaceutical overdose, which means taking too many different types of medications, Bruce Huff said. Candy Huff’s aunt was appointed by the court to make her medical decisions, and the hospital has continued to give Candy Huff blood. A voicemail message left for the aunt was not returned.

Pamela Thompson, an attorney for Clark Memorial Hospital, said Bruce’s religious objections were not the reason for the petition.

“This situation was very, very unique,” Thompson said. “[Religion] was not the substance or basis of the petition.”

In her five years representing the hospital, Thompson said this is the first time she filed a petition to appoint a representative or ask for a judge to intervene in a medical case like this. She said it would have been preferable for Candy Huff, and for anyone, to designate a health care representative. A living will is used for end-of-life decisions, but a health care representative will oversee medical decisions if the patient is unable to do so.

Indiana Code establishes a hierarchy of who can make medical decisions. The first person is a judicially appointed medical representative. If there is not one, spouses, parents, adult children or adult siblings all have equal say. If there is disagreement, the court will decide who has the individual’s best interests in mind, Thompson said. The third person who can make a decision is a religious superior.

“The hospital always tries to look at the facts and circumstances and look at the families, all of the patient’s rights and all of the family’s rights,” Thompson said.

Because of privacy laws, Thompson said she could not explain their reasons, but said they had good reason to believe Bruce Huff was not able to make the best decisions for his wife.

Bruce Huff has medical issues as well, including Parkinson’s disease. He and Candy Huff, his wife of more than 25 years, always took care of each other, he said. Although he admits they have had marital problems, he said he wants what is best for his wife.

Candy Huff never considered herself a Jehovah’s Witness but shared his beliefs, Bruce Huff said. He said they had talked many times about the blood issue and thinks she would not have wanted transfusions.

“I know my wife better than anybody. She always wanted to do what is right,” he said.

He said Candy Huff’s condition seems to be improving and doctor’s are hopeful. There was discussion she could be moved to a hospital in Indianapolis, and he said he wants to move there, too.

Bruce Huff said he wishes Candy Huff had appointed a legal representative and wants others to be aware of the blood issue.

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