Éloïse Dupuis was giddy with excitement the day before she gave birth to her first child, a son she and her husband named Liam.
In a Facebook message to her aunt Manon Boyer, the 27-year-old said “she couldn’t wait to see him, to hold him and to rock him.”
“She said the dream of her life was about to come true and she couldn’t wait to introduce him to me,” Boyer recalled, one week after her niece died in a hospital following complications from a difficult delivery.
Dupuis was a Jehovah’s Witness and had signed a document, when she became an adult, saying she would not accept a blood transfusion. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that passages in the Bible order them to abstain from taking blood, even when their life is in danger.
The young woman died six days after giving birth in a hospital in Lévis, near Quebec City, after being transferred from a birthing centre when complications arose. The exact cause of death has not yet been determined. However, reports suggesting she didn’t accept a blood transfusion have created a stir in Quebec with friends, some family members and politicians questioning whether she made the decision freely.
Her parents, her husband and her in-laws were with her for six days before she died, Boyer said.
“I don’t believe she would have refused blood after having her baby if she knew her life was in danger. I don’t think she had the capacity to make a free choice because she was ill from two surgeries. The family never notified us that she was ill.”
Boyer said she is happy that Coroner Luc Malouin is investigating her niece’s death because he will probably question the nurses and doctors who treated Dupuis at the hospital. Boyer said she has already spoken to Malouin about the death.
Boyer said she felt that something was amiss when Dupuis, and her niece’s mother, failed to answer Facebook messages she had sent inquiring about the birth on Oct. 6.
“I sent a message congratulating her on being a grandmother, but she didn’t answer,” Boyer recalled. “The next day, I sent a message saying I know they’re busy, but could they let me know if Éloïse is fine. But that wasn’t answered either.”
A few days later, Boyer noticed a message on Dupuis’s Facebook wall, congratulating her and her husband on their second wedding anniversary. However, the person who posted the message said that they knew “it wasn’t a happy time but that the couple would have other times to celebrate.”
Boyer said she was confused by the message, so she replied to it asking for news about her niece.
“Why isn’t it a good day to celebrate when you just had a baby?” she wondered.
It was then that someone wrote that Dupuis was fighting for her life and had lost a lot of blood.
Boyer said her daughter called the hospital to find out what was going on. A nurse said she would ask a member of Dupuis’s family to speak to her, but family members refused to come to the phone, she said.
“The nurse said we could come to the hospital to visit, but she said that Éloïse’s heart was beating slowly and it was just a question of hours before she would die.”
After hearing the news, Boyer contacted Cassandra Zélézen, a childhood friend of her niece’s. Zélézen and her two sisters, who are triplets, drove to the hospital from their home in Rawdon, in the Lanaudière region, to try to see their ailing friend.
Zélézen told the Montreal Gazette that Dupuis’s father refused to allow them to see his daughter. Dupuis’s husband told the triplets that he had regrets about having the baby at the birthing centre and wondered about the decision not to have a blood transfusion.
“Now, it’s too late,” Zélézen recalled the husband saying.
Her friend died a short time later.
While at the hospital, Zélézen said that Dupuis’s husband showed her a note that Dupuis had written, while intubated, after having her uterus removed.
“It’s OK, we can adopt,” the note read.
After Dupuis’s death, her friends messaged her aunt saying: “She’s dead, she’s dead.”
On the day Dupuis died, three elders from a Jehovah’s Witness congregation were present at the hospital, according to Zélézen.
John Redwood, a former Jehovah’s Witness from Maryland who wrote about Dupuis’s death on his website, said the organization has a Hospital Liaison Committee comprised of trained elders who are dispatched to hospitals anytime a Witness may require a blood transfusion.
“Their purpose is to support the family in their decision (and) to avoid being coerced into taking blood,” said Redwood, 49, who left his congregation three years ago. “They may not have ever met the patient, but these are the enforcers of the policy.”
He said there is a second committee, called the Hospital Visitation Committee, comprised of members who visit and pray with sick patients but don’t “interfere with blood policy.”
Simon Picard, a spokesperson for the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada, denied that elders are sent to hospitals to ensure that blood transfusions do not take place.
“We have members who will be there to provide support, but the choice to not have a blood transfusion is an individual choice,” he said. “When you’re in a crisis situation, you like to have members to support you in a decision you have made.”
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard called Dupuis’s death “terrible,” but said it was important for society to respect the law and individual choice.
“The jurisprudence has been very clear — if a person of sound mind refuses medical treatment, even if it costs them their life, we can’t go against their will.”
In Quebec City, the Coalition Avenir Québec described the incident as “troubling,” and said it raises serious questions about the health care system.
“I don’t have answers today. but I say to myself, ‘How can it be that we let someone die in Quebec for religious reasons,’ ” CAQ Leader François Legault said.
Sylvie Roy, the CAQ critic for secularism, wondered whether Dupuis “had really given free and clear consent? Are there people who spoke for her, who decided for her? Did she know she was going to die leaving her child there?”
Dupuis, whose immediate family could not be reached for comment, had moved to the Beauce region two years ago, following her marriage, but still remained in touch with Boyer and her family.
“It’s unbelievable that you could die a few days after having a baby,” Boyer said. “The baby will be raised by them (Dupuis’s family) and we will never see him. We have lost a beautiful girl. She was full of love and was ready to help anyone, anywhere, anytime.”
Philip Authier of the Montreal Gazette contributed to this report