Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette says he has proof a 26-year-old Jehovah's Witness woman who died after giving birth at a hospital near Quebec City understood the risks of refusing a blood transfusion, but insisted one not be performed.
Éloïse Dupuis died of a hemorrhage on Oct. 12 at Hôtel-Dieu de Lévis Hospital after giving birth by caesarean section.
Her son survived the birth.
Barrette said he has "documentation" that shows the patient was "perfectly informed" about the procedure and the risks of refusing blood transfusions, which the Jehovah's Witness faith forbids.
"She was informed, she signed documents many times. She knew, and she made it clear, that if something was to happen, because of her religion she didn't want any transfusion," Barrette told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.
Coroner investigating, aunt goes to police
Quebec coroner Luc Malouin is investigating the circumstances around her death and will determine if Dupuis's refusal to have a blood transfusion met medical and legal standards.
On Wednesday, Dupuis's aunt lodged a complaint with the Lévis police and called on them to investigate her niece's death, saying she was not in a position to provide "informed consent" on the issue of a blood transfusion.
Manon Boyer is not a Jehovah's Witness and alleged in an interview with Radio-Canada that Dupuis's death amounts to an "honour killing."
She alleges Dupuis was pressured into refusing consent for a blood transfusion by the Jehovah's Witness hospital liaison committee, which she said was present in the woman's room.
The committee, made up of Jehovah's Witness elders, works with families and physicians to ensure the faith's medical care doctrines are respected.
Boyer said Dupuis's immediate family prevented anyone who wasn't a Jehovah's Witness from contacting her, and wants the law changed to address such situations, saying she thinks a change could prevent other deaths.
CBC Montreal contacted the Jehovah's Witness congregation in Lévis and is awaiting a response.
Patient must be free from 'undue influence'
Barrette said there's no way to prevent groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses hospital liaison committee from visiting a patient.
However, he said it is important that a patient be alone with their doctor when consent is given or refused.
"She can have a private conversation with her doctor and the decision is made independently," he said.
He said the evidence points to that being the case with Dupuis.
In an interview with CBC Montreal's Daybreak, Jean-Pierre Ménard, a lawyer specializing in patients' rights, explained that "free consent" is a fundamental legal standard that has to be met in cases where treatment is refused.
"The patient must be free from undue influence," he said.