MOUNT VERNON, Wash. – A few hours after a Mount Vernon judge ruled that a 14-year-old Jehovah's Witness sick with leukemia had the right to refuse a blood transfusion, even though that refusal might kill him, the boy died in a Seattle hospital.
Dennis Lindberg of Mount Vernon died shortly before 9 p.m. Wednesday in his bed at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center, the boy's biological father, Dennis Lindberg Sr., told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Hospital spokeswoman Teri Thomas said she could not confirm or deny anything about the case at the request of the boy's legal guardian, who is an aunt.
Earlier Wednesday, Skagit County Superior Court Judge John Meyer denied a motion by the state to force the boy to have a blood transfusion. The judge said the eighth-grader knows "he's basically giving himself a death sentence."
Doctors diagnosed the boy with leukemia in early November and began treating him with chemotherapy at Children's Hospital, but stopped a week ago because his blood count was too low, the Skagit Valley Herald reported. The boy refused the transfusion on religious grounds.
However, his birth parents, Lindberg Sr. and Rachel Wherry, who do not have custody and flew from Boise, Idaho, to be at the hearing, believed their son should have had the transfusion and suggested he had been unduly influenced by his legal guardian, his aunt Dianna Mincin, who is also a Jehovah's Witness.
Mincin has declined to talk about the case.
The boy's father told the P-I the ruling shocked him but after visiting his son later in the day Wednesday, he decided not to appeal. He said doctors told him Wednesday evening that the boy, unconscious since Tuesday, had likely suffered brain damage.
Several friends of Lindberg and of his parents attended Wednesday's hearing, and some ran out crying when the judge announced his decision.
"Dennis does present himself as a very mature man. But he really is just a child trying to please the adults around him," said Jan Curry, whose daughter, Morgan, is his friend.
With the transfusions and other treatment, the boy had been give a 70 percent chance of surviving the next five years, the judge said in court, based on what the boy's doctors told him.
Still, the judge said his decision was based strictly on facts.
"I don't believe Dennis' decision is the result of any coercion. He is mature and understands the consequences of his decision," Meyer said during Wednesday's hearing. "I don't think Dennis is trying to commit suicide. This isn't something Dennis just came upon, and he believes with the transfusion he would be unclean and unworthy."