Patient’s Death blamed on Mistaken Religion

Merle Piper was not feeling too good for some time now, and finally, Roberta, his wife, took him for a check up to the Cumberland Medical Center in Crossville, Tenn.  There, based on his urine analysis, Merle was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney failure.  He was admitted to the hospital for treatment.  However, ten days later, the medical personnel refrained from giving Merle what would have been potentially a life saving treatment.  When Dr. Kabasakal informed Roberta, on that afternoon of October 28, 2014, that he could not provide the required treatment to her husband due to his religious beliefs, she was stunned.  On questioning the doctor further, she discovered that Merle’s medical chart stated that he was a Jehovah’s Witness.  Roberta immediately pointed out the error to Dr. Kabasakal, clarifying that Merle was definitely not a Jehovah’s Witness and gave him permission to put in a port for his treatment.  Unfortunately, by then it was too late and Merle passed away that night.

The fact that Merle’s medical chart stated his religion as Jehovah’s Witness led them to deny him the required medical treatment.  The attending medical personnel believed that particular religious beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witness prohibited that type of treatment.

While there are many cases of death of a patient due to medical errors or medical negligence, cases such as Merle Piper’s seem uncommon.  What remains a mystery is how did Merle’s medical chart state his religion as a Jehovah’s Witness?  How come nobody, including Roberta, managed to find this error in the ten days that Merle was under treatment?

Last month, Roberta sued the Cumberland Medical Center, Ayca Kabasakal MD, Merhaf Zenio MD, John Doe individuals and corporations in Cumberland County, Tenn.  The lawsuit, filed on October 13, 2015, alleges medical malpractice and wrongful death and seeks an unspecified amount in damages.

While this does seem like a mistake was made, there are hundreds of cases, where medical personnel have been helpless in saving a patient merely because of the patient’s religious belief, which does not allow a particular line of treatment.  The cases of Emma Gough in 2007 and Rockwell Sevy in 2011 are examples.  These issues put the medical personnel in a dilemma – should they follow their medical ethics and do everything possible to save the patient or should they give in to the patient’s religious beliefs and watch helplessly as the patient passes away?  What would you do in either of the cases – as a patient and as a doctor?


  1. LESSMILLER, K. (2015, November 12). Religion Mistake Blamed for Patient’s Death. Retrieved November 25, 2015, from
  2. Religion and refusing medical treatment: Would you die for your religion? (2007, November 07). Retrieved November 25, 2015, from

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