To Whom Does Your Body Belong?
IF YOU are an adult, how would you answer the above question? No doubt you would reply, as would nearly all adults: “My body belongs to me.”
What, then, if someone recommended that you eat a certain kind of food he thought was good for you, but you did not want to? How would you feel if he seized you and forced that food down your throat?
What if a surgeon recommended an operation to remove your arm, leg, eye, or some internal organ because he thought it would be good for your health, and you refused? How would you feel if he used force and did it anyway?
What if a doctor recommended a medicine he thought was good for you, but you did not want it? What if you rejected it because, while it may have benefited some, it had caused thousands of illnesses and deaths and also was against your religious beliefs? How would you feel if the doctor had you seized and forced you to take the medicine?
As an adult, likely you would be outraged at such treatment. Whatever the risks involved, you surely want to have the final say as to what happens to your body. Someone’s forcing you to do things like that against your will would make you feel like a slave, a prisoner. It would remind one of the “Dark Ages,” or of Nazi concentration camp tactics.
In many countries the rights of the individual over his own body are protected by law. In the United States, the Federal Constitution’s fourth amendment declares that the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”
The thirteenth amendment states: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” And the first and fourteenth amendments guarantee a person the freedom of his religious beliefs.
Will Not “Play God”
Generally speaking, officials recognize this basic right of a person to have control over his body. Thus, when a Cincinnati hospital and physicians appealed to an Ohio court to authorize them to cut off a sixteen-year-old girl’s cancerous leg, the court refused.
Yet, the doctors claimed that she would have a much smaller chance of surviving without the operation. Then why did the court refuse? Because both the girl and her mother had denied doctors the permission to perform the operation.
Judge Benjamin Schwartz, who presided in the case, declared: “The girl testified in court that she would rather take her chances without the operation. She said if her leg was removed she would be a charity case the rest of her life. She said she wouldn’t be able to enjoy life, get married or even afford an artificial leg, and her mother agreed with her.”
Judge Schwartz added: “I said this court would not superimpose its will on unwilling people, . . . I would not grant the order. The question of the operation is up to the mother and the girl. I am not going to play God.”—Evening Independent, Massillon, Ohio, July 9, 1971.
Similarly, a circuit court judge in Miami, Florida, ruled that a seventy-two-year-old woman who had been receiving painful medical treatment had “the right to die in peace.” The woman suffered from a fatal blood disorder and had been taking blood transfusions. The procedure involved painful surgery on her veins, so she pleaded with the doctors to stop, even if she died. She said she did not want to be “tortured any more.”
The judge, David Popper, stated: “A person has the right not to suffer pain. . . . I cannot decide whether she will live or die. That is up to God.” He ruled that she had the right to refuse medical treatment, and forced the doctors to stop.
In that case, the woman did not object to the blood transfusions. What she objected to was the painful procedure.
Yet, what if other persons object to the blood transfusion itself? Should they not, as adults, have the right to refuse this medical treatment and accept one of their choosing?
One of the reasons why some would refuse blood was noted by Winfield Miller, associate editor of Medical Economics. He said: “No biologic product has a greater potential for fatal mistakes in medical practice than blood. More than one doctor has learned to his sorrow that every bottle of blood in the blood banks is a potential bottle of nitroglycerin.”
An editorial in The Wall Street Journal of June 14, 1971, observed: “An estimated 180,000 Americans each year develop serum hepatitis from blood transfusions alone. Of these, 3,000 die and 30,000 others are bedridden for weeks.”
This tragic toll comes from just one complication of blood transfusions—serum hepatitis. However, there are others. In the book Complications in Surgery Management, under the heading “Cumulative Mortality from Complications of Blood Transfusions,” we read:
“The annual mortality from only 3 complications of blood transfusion (hemolytic reactions, overload and serum hepatitis) is computed to be 16,500. Although some assumptions used in arriving at this figure may be challenged, one cannot dispute the fact that there is a tremendous loss of life and induced illness from this procedure, . . . In terms of disability and loss of life . . . blood transfusions rival some of our major health problems.”
Thus, early in 1971, the Supreme Court of Illinois ruled that hospitals may be liable for damages when a patient contracts hepatitis from a blood transfusion.
In view of all this, should an adult be forced to take blood if he does not want to? Reasonable persons will acknowledge that an adult ought to have the right of choice regarding a product that has such a potential for danger, especially if it is also against his religious beliefs.
Respecting Patients’ Requests
Many physicians agree and give their patients this right of choice. For instance, in 1970 Dr. Charles W. Pearce, a cardiologist, successfully performed open-heart surgery on one of Jehovah’s witnesses without using blood, since that was the patient’s request. Observers were amazed at the patient’s speedy recovery. The Sentry News of Slidell, Louisiana, reported:
“The surgeon said he believes the method used has proven a boon not only to Jehovah’s witnesses but to most patients undergoing open heart surgery. ‘We recently used this technique in 100 consecutive open heart operations for congenital heart defects,’ he explained, ‘and there was only one mortality.’”
Dr. Pearce said that not using blood virtually eliminated the possibility of infectious hepatitis and the risk of allergic reaction. In addition, he noted that when blood is used the functions of the heart, lungs and kidneys sometimes become impaired during the early period following surgery. He stated: “But with the [bloodless] technique, the function of these organs is nearly always satisfactory.”
This is similar to what the widely known heart surgeon Dr. Denton Cooley and his team of Texas doctors have been doing. The Arizona Republic of December 6, 1970, tells about it:
“Of all the things that can go wrong during heart surgery, one of the major problems always has been the complications of blood transfusions. A patient risks hepatitis, reactions leading to shock and the possibility of the transfused blood being incompatible with his own. Now this problem seems to have been solved by a group of Houston doctors. They simply eliminate the transfusions.
“This radical step was taken by the famed team of surgeons headed by Dr. Denton Cooley . . .
“The procedure worked successfully on [Jehovah’s] Witnesses and now is used by the team on all heart patients, with a resulting decrease in postoperative complications.
“‘We have a contract with the Jehovah’s Witnesses not to give a transfusion under any circumstances,’ Cooley says. ‘The patients bear the risk then, because we don’t even keep blood on hand for them.’ . . .
“‘We became so impressed with the results on the Jehovah’s Witnesses,’ Cooley says, ‘that we started using the procedure on all our heart patients. We’ve had surprisingly good success and used it in our [heart] transplants as well.’”
Such doctors listen to the requests of their patients. They understand that this is the only right thing to do. Also, they have reaped benefits, since they have learned things they did not know before. And if there is any risk because of refusing some medical treatment, it is taken by the patient. He bears the responsibility, which is as it should be.
“Dark Ages” Decision
In the face of all this, a completely opposite action was taken in July 1971 by the Supreme Court of New Jersey. It upheld a lower court’s order that forced a blood transfusion upon an adult of sound mind, twenty-two-year-old Delores Heston, who had been in an accident.
Repeatedly, Miss Heston told her doctor and others that she did not want blood under any circumstances. She even carried a card that said the same thing in case she was unconscious. But her wishes were completely ignored. The lower court ruled for the forced transfusion. An eyewitness, Thomas Keeney, gives this notarized account of what happened as she was forcibly taken to the operating room:
“During the process of moving her onto the bed she kept yelling, ‘Leave me alone leave me alone.’
“When they wheeled Delores down the hall, she was hollering all the way down the hall, ‘Leave me alone.’
“She also hollered for someone to help her, to make them stop. She said repeatedly that they should leave her alone. She saw Bob DiNardo [a friend] standing in the hall when they wheeled her past him and she said to him, ‘Bob, help me.’ She hollered all the way into the operating room.”
Another eyewitness testified that she could be heard resisting even after the operating room doors were closed. But no help was possible, as the court order could be enforced by physical violence, even with police help, if necessary.
Thus, Miss Heston’s body was seized and she was forced to take a medical treatment she absolutely did not want. The law calls a person who seizes and violates a woman a criminal, a rapist. What, then, of doctors and officials who did the same, seizing and violating the body of this woman against her will? The account surely sounds like something out of the “Dark Ages” or a Nazi concentration camp.
True, Miss Heston had been in an accident. Doctors felt she would die without a blood transfusion. But ever so many persons have been told that by doctors. And most of these persons who refused blood survived. Even if they did not, it was still their decision to make.
Surely there are risks—both ways, as is obvious from the horrible toll of 180,000 injured and dead from hepatitis alone. But the point at issue here is that the individual should have the right to decide which risk he will take, and then bear the consequences.
The opinion of the Supreme Court of New Jersey was written by the presiding judge, Joseph Weintraub. It is of interest, then, to read the following item that appeared in the Easton, Pennsylvania, Express about three years ago, on December 3, 1968:
“The Chief Justice of New Jersey strongly criticized hospitals and commercial blood banks Monday for ‘using dirty sources’ of blood for transfusions.
“The criticism from Chief Justice Joseph Weintraub came as he heard arguments in the case of Mrs. Fanny Lou Jackson of Plainfield.
“Mrs. Jackson, who claimed she suffered hepatitis as a result of blood transfusions, is suing Muhlenberg Hospital in Plainfield and the Eastern Blood Bank in Newark. . . .
“‘You are taking blood from drunkards and derelicts in skid row areas who would not hesitate to lie about their past medical history to get their hands on a few dollars,’ the chief justice said to lawyers for the hospital and blood bank. . . .
“The chief justice said he was especially concerned about the use of blood from narcotics addicts who expose themselves to hepatitis by using needles on themselves.”
But then, in 1971, in the case of Miss Heston, the same judge called blood transfusion “a simple, established procedure”! He should have known better, especially in view of his own testimony three years previously, and in view of what has been written so extensively in medical journals by more competent authorities.
In the opinion, Judge Weintraub also pointed out that ‘attempted suicide is a common-law crime and is now considered a disorderly persons’ offense under New Jersey law.’ But where was there any evidence of attempted suicide? None at all. Miss Heston did not want to die. She did not try to take her own life. She wanted medical attention, even surgery if necessary. She was willing to take medication she approved, including any of several alternatives to blood.
But speaking of taking life, what about the thousands who die from taking blood each year? If the risk of dying by not taking blood is called an offense against the law, and a court order is issued, why not issue court orders seizing the doctors whose patients have been killed by blood transfusions? After all, such doctors have been responsible for taking lives and causing injury to thousands of people each year. Is refusing a blood transfusion to be considered against the law, but maiming and killing thousands of people each year to be considered lawful? Is it reasonable to regard one who refuses blood as a criminal, but not those who are manslayers?
Motives Not Always Pure
Most doctors, including those who believe in blood transfusions, are sincere in their point of view. But they can be mistaken, and are. Then there are doctors who are simply unaware of the latest findings in the field of medicine, especially in connection with what can be done without blood. Others are too proud to admit they are not infallible, and still others simply do not care about their patients’ rights.
In the case of some doctors their motives, their sincerity, has to be questioned. Why? Because while they say they give blood in their desire to save life, they turn right around and perform or approve abortions, which take life—165,000 in New York city alone in one year! Imagine the outcry and court orders if 165,000 babies had died because the mothers had refused blood transfusions! But, especially since those killed in abortions are not big enough to protest, this legalized murder is performed by many doctors.
Smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer and kills thousands of people. Alcoholism shortens the lives of thousands more. But do doctors get court orders seizing smokers and alcoholics and forcing medical treatment on them? No, even such obviously harmful practices are left up to the individual although they kill thousands of times more people than may die because of having refused a blood transfusion. Has anyone seriously suggested getting a court order forbidding people to drive automobiles because more than a thousand are killed and forty times as many are injured on the average each week in accidents?
So there are many practices, for good or bad, that involve risks. The individual is given the right to decide if he will take them. Why, then, single out a person who refuses blood to force her to take a treatment she does not want, particularly when the treatment itself involves a risk, is against her religious beliefs and she is willing to take alternative medical treatment?
The mentality of some in the medical profession toward their patients’ rights was noted recently by an article in Newsweek of August 9, 1971. It reported the following after Dr. Christiaan Barnard of South Africa transplanted a heart and two lungs from one person into another:
“Later the same day Rosaline Gunya, wife of the dead donor, Jackson Gunya, tearfully told reporters that Groote Schuur [hospital] authorities had not even told her of her husband’s death before his organs were removed, much less asked her permission for the transplant. ‘I would never have given permission for his heart to be taken from his body,’ she sobbed. ‘This is a terrible thing that has happened.’”
Although hospital authorities claimed they did not know Mr. Gunya was married, it was learned that Mrs. Gunya had visited her husband the night before he died. And reporters took no more than thirty minutes to discover the dead man’s relatives. Could not the doctors also have done that, had they been so inclined? Said South Africa’s Cape Times editorially: “It is regrettable that [Professor Barnard] should have gone on record as saying: ‘We thought he was a bachelor.’ Even African bachelors have brothers and sisters.”
So while many doctors and officials have proper motives and respect their patients’ requests and rights, there are those who do not, and who trample on them instead. That such an attitude could exist today is sobering food for thought. It shows that the thinking of some is not far from the mentality of the “Dark Ages” and Nazi concentration camps.
But those who deny the patient his Godgiven right of choice, especially when it does involve his relationship to God, will one day have to answer for what they have done. And they will have to answer to God himself. At that time none will be able to run for a court order, because such will be without power. Instead, they will collide, head on, with the Supreme Judge of the universe, to their shame and eternal loss.—Deut. 32:35, 41.