Blood Transfusions: Why Many Are Taking a Fresh Look
“SPREADING THE WORD ABOUT TRANSFUSIONS.” With this title, an article in Medical World News of November 28, 1977, informed thousands of United States doctors:
“This month, 370,000 U.S. physicians and hospital officials are being handed a 64-page pocket-size pamphlet: Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood. A million registered nurses are getting the same booklet; so are 320,000 lawyers and judges, all from volunteer Witnesses by hand delivery.”
But the professional people in the United States were just a fraction of the total reached. The material was also provided in Canada, England, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden and many other lands.
All of us are interested in our health, conscience and fundamental rights. But we may ask: Why was this vast campaign undertaken? Was it important? How did those in the medical and legal professions react? What were the results?
As Medical World News noted, the special campaign had to do with a new booklet (and a four-page folder, to be added to a patient’s medical record) explaining why millions of Christians earth wide do not accept blood transfusions. The material also took up the vital moral and ethical implications for patients and doctors. And it presented thought-provoking evidence that the use of alternative therapies instead of blood transfusions has sound medical basis.
What Was the Response?
After reading the information a specialist in internal medicine in Berlin, Germany, said: “I find these explanations of great importance for every doctor. For the first time I understand your attitude, which I now can esteem and respect.”
The head of a medical clinic in northern India told Mrs. Don Hahn: “The information in it is marvelous.” In fact, he said that he asked his associate physicians to read it. Some weeks later, Fletcher Earles needed surgery and approached one of the other doctors. The reaction? “There will be no problem.” The doctor said that the head of the clinic had had all of them study the booklet together. How did the surgery go without blood? Just fine.
In Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles, one of the leading surgeons told T. R. Yeatts: ‘I already have a copy of the booklet and have gone through it. You are right; blood is dangerous.’ He said that he, too, was operated on by Dr. Denton Cooley (of Texas) and so he read with interest the recent reports of hundreds of open-heart surgery cases that Dr. Cooley has handled without using blood. The doctor felt moved to offer a generous contribution to the work of the Witnesses.
Naturally, the reactions varied. Many doctors, lawyers and judges simply were polite, accepting and promising to read the material. A small number reacted very unfavorably, such as by saying that they were staunch members of such-and-such a church and would not read anything from another religion. Or there was the doctor in Seattle, Washington, who fumed: “I make my living giving blood transfusions; so I’m not about to read that!”
Those were exceptions, though. Many immediately sensed the value of the material. Upon seeing the title, a teacher of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico clapped his hands and said:
“I really do appreciate this. We have tried to teach our doctors to take a more liberal position toward Jehovah’s Witnesses; but, frankly, we were not sure just what our own position was. We have needed something just like this.”
Some doctors were so pleased with Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood that they spoke enthusiastically about it to their colleagues. One doctor in Los Angeles, California, was given a booklet and two weeks later one of his associates was contacted. When the second doctor saw the booklet, he commented: “I was worried that you had forgotten me. I’ve been waiting for my booklet since I’ve heard so much about it! I’m going to read it right away and then keep it in my library for future use.”
Publicized and Welcomed
Many medical publications took note of the educational campaign. For example, Patient Care (Dec. 15, 1977) had an article on the uses of blood but added a special box entitled “When religious principle prohibits blood transfusion.” After mentioning that Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood for religious reasons and will sign a medically approved form releasing the medical staff and hospital of responsibility, the magazine urged readers to obtain a copy of the new booklet from the publishers. The Journal of the Medical Society of New Jersey, in its January 1978 issue, reprinted verbatim the four-page folder that each Witness will sign and have his doctor add to his medical record.
When a doctor in San Antonio, Texas, heard Patsy Cross mention blood, he said: “I’m the head of the blood bank here. What is it you have?” As she began to explain that she was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he happily interrupted: “I wondered when you would come! The notice came out in Texas Medicine that you would be coming by with some material. I’ve been anxious to get this. I’ve already seen and read part of this book and I sure would like to have one for myself. I’m very interested in the historical aspect. I hope that everyone gets one of these.”
Literally scores of doctors, lawyers, medical librarians and others wrote to the Watchtower Society for copies. For instance, an assistant professor of philosophy wrote from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:
“I teach a course in Medical Ethics, and am very interested in presenting the class with the problems which Jehovah’s Witnesses have in refusing blood transfusions. I would appreciate receiving a copy of your pamphlet.”
Others responded by letter after reading the booklet. Dr. L. H. Cohn, of Harvard Medical School Department of Surgery, wrote:
I recently received medical material regarding the relationship of Jehovah’s Witnesses to the question of blood transfusions. I certainly appreciate receiving this information and it will be of help for problems requiring open-heart surgery. We have done a number of open-heart surgical operations without the use of blood for many patients, not just Jehovah’s Witnesses, but we have operated on a number of your followers. Thank you once again.”
Dr. Richard Roelofs, Fellow in Bioethics, Montefiore Hospital and Medical Center, wrote us:
“I have read with much interest your recent publication . . . The issues and arguments discussed in this publication are of concern not only to physicians, but also to hospital administrators and to lawyers and philosophers engaged in the study of medical ethics. I could make good use of 25 additional copies.”
Many other hospitals and doctors contacted the local congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, expressing their appreciation and giving assurance of their willingness to cooperate. This even occurred with doctors whom the Witnesses were not able to contact personally and so they had to leave the material with the receptionist or nurse.
Some told of fine successes they had had in treating Jehovah’s Witnesses. An obstetrician-gynecologist in Delaware related:
“A pregnant Witness was brought to the emergency room of the hospital where I was working. She was hemorrhaging with what seemed to be the complication known as placenta previa. Though the staff had already cross-matched her for a transfusion, I respected her convictions and I treated her for shock. When examination showed that an emergency cesarean section was needed, I performed it. Her ‘blood count’ got to the critical low of 3 grams and the staff called a judge and over the phone got a court order to administer blood. But I refused because of her religious convictions and was advised that I might be arrested for contempt of court. With Dextran and iron injections she improved; her hemoglobin level came up. The mother and healthy child left the hospital in good condition.”
A staff doctor at the medical school of the University of California appreciated the booklet and related:
“Last year one of the world’s most distinguished surgery professors [here] did the exceedingly difficult Whipple operation for cancer of the ampulla of vater without blood transfusion, upon the patient’s insistence. I am happy to report that the patient made an excellent recovery.”
It is “exceedingly difficult” because it involves extensive abdominal surgery and reconstruction of the internal organs. Yet this doctor wrote that its being done successfully confirmed the view “that Witnesses can be operated on successfully without transfusions ‘by means of calmness, extreme carefulness and a measure of skill, in addition to good communications with the anesthetist.’”
Professionals Wanted to Help
Many professional people were so appreciative that they helped Jehovah’s Witnesses to carry out the campaign thoroughly.
A hospital in Newfoundland contacted our office there and requested “300 booklets to distribute to the nurses at the hospital.” A doctor at the Memorial University there wanted 65 additional copies for all the medical students. From Auburn, New York, comes a report of a student nurse who had nearly completed her schooling. She was so enthused over the information and so desirous of sharing it with others that “she took the booklet to college and had it mimeographed in its entirety. For the benefit of other student nurses she had copies posted on the bulletin board.”
When a representative of the University Hospital in San Diego, California, was asked how many booklets were wanted, the answer was 300 ‘so that all department heads and others who need the information will get them.’ The Witness calling had only 50 at the time, and had to return later with 250 more. A hospital administrator in Ann Arbor, Michigan, asked for 66 copies of the booklet and brochures. Then he sent a memo to all the other administrators regarding the visit they would receive. The Witness who followed up reports: “I received a warm and cordial welcome. They took about 30 to 40 copies each. They told me, too, that they would make this matter known in their regular meetings.”
One large hospital in Los Angeles, California, wanted 800 booklets to distribute with their payroll checks. An administrator at the Harbor General Hospital called to mind his experience with a Witness who had a terminal disease. With each of four operations ‘she had calmly maintained her position about blood, explaining her Bible reasons for it.’ He so admired her courage and positive attitude that when she finally died he went to her funeral, the Witness being the only patient whose funeral he had ever attended. He wanted 50 copies of the booklet for the department heads and assistants.
Nurses, too, benefited from such help. Rather than the few minutes requested, an administrator in Missouri spent an hour and a half inquiring of the visiting Witness. Expressing appreciation for “such needed understanding,” the administrator saw to it that every nurse would get a booklet. Then he arranged for three Witnesses “to speak for half an hour to all the nurses on the three shifts. The hospital even paid for the nurses’ time.”
Help of a different kind came from an official of a nurses’ association in Arizona. “Very impressed” with the material, she supplied 555 address labels so that all the nurses could be sent a copy.
Were Professional Views Affected?
The objective of distributing the material on blood was primarily informational. Yet many professionals formed new opinions.
Mrs. Beverly Perrin left a booklet with her pediatrician. A month later she brought her five-year-old girl Joy for a checkup. The doctor said: “You know, I couldn’t help but feel that whoever wrote that information ought to be the ambassador of the United States. They had a way of putting it so gently. Such a touchy subject; yet after reading it you could easily be convinced.”
Mrs. Robert Cartwright needed a major operation. She went to a surgeon in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but he said emphatically that he would not touch one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He agreed, though, to try to find another surgeon, and he accepted the Blood booklet. A few weeks later the Cartwrights saw him again. He had not gotten another surgeon but said that he would operate himself. Why? He explained that he “read the booklet and got the point it was making. He would depend and trust in his surgical skills to operate without blood.” The surgery went well and Janice Cartwright recovered quickly.
The blood issue came up in Arizona regarding a premature, four-pound (1.8-kilogram) baby girl with liver trouble. Her parents, José and Carmen Sandoval, explained their beliefs to the doctor. Saying he could not accept their views, the doctor threatened to go to court to remove the baby from their custody. But he agreed to wait a little longer and to read the booklet. He was much impressed and showed a changed attitude. With skilled care the infant improved and is now in “bubbling good health.” The doctor? He told the Sandovals that if the blood issue came up again he would be more than willing to care for the girl.
A patient needing a hysterectomy explained to a gynecologist in Pittstown, New Jersey, that she could not accept blood. He responded unhappily, “Well, that’s one more risk.” Yet he agreed to operate and to read the booklet. The Witness relates:
“When the doctor walked into the operating room and saw some units of blood ready, he said loudly: ‘What’s that doing in here? Mrs. —— is a Jehovah’s Witness and she has the right to refuse blood. It’s against that right even to have it in here. I didn’t order it and I want it out of here.’”
She recovered and went home. Two weeks later she had to call a specialist about removing her daughter’s tonsils. Upon hearing about blood, he got quite upset and said, “I’m not going into an operation with my hands tied!” She mentioned the gynecologist and her operation without a transfusion. That brought a changed tone. Later, the specialist did remove the girl’s tonsils. Afterward, when the mother went back to the gynecologist for a checkup, he asked, “How did your daughter’s operation go?” How did he know of it? He answered:
“When you told her doctor on the phone that I did a hysterectomy without blood, you blew his mind. He came over here to me all upset. But I straightened him out. I gave him your booklet and told him that he had no right to force his moral opinions on you.”
Yes, the first doctor was convinced, and he helped to convince his colleague.
Some months before the campaign, Mrs. Hilda Meeks had explained her position to her doctor in Geneva, Ohio. Believing that his conscience would compel him to override her view, he urged her to find another physician. When the booklet became available, she took him a copy. Mrs. Meeks explains:
“The next morning the doctor’s nurse called and said: ‘The doctor has asked that you come by and pick up that little booklet. He is thoroughly convinced that he can go along with you on this issue.’”
A week after 100 booklets had been given to medical students and instructors in Gothenburg, Sweden, two Witnesses were invited to a discussion. Some students were quite critical, especially about a parent’s right to decide for minors. Then a surgeon instructor rose and said that the matter was much exaggerated, that a group of surgeons and chief physicians had agreed that blood transfusions were seldom necessary, even in cases where blood had been forced on someone. “Time upholds Jehovah’s Witnesses,” he added.
More Interest in Spiritual Things
A number of doctors and lawyers showed increased interest in spiritual matters after reading the Bible-based material.
Since the Blood booklet was distributed in Italy, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been discussing the Bible regularly with a neurosurgeon, who commented: “After a full day of hard work always handling physical bodies I feel the need to be interested in spiritual things.” From Avellino, Italy, a Witness writes: “I have started a regular Bible study with a doctor [who read the booklet]. He is a person extremely devoted to God, and has said: ‘I would like to be a man like you, completely dedicated to God and to His work.’”
Lorraine Sanchez presented the booklet to an attorney in Las Vegas, Nevada. Already having read a copy, he said:
“After you study to be a lawyer and pass your exams, you don’t really know all there is to know about law. Similarly, I feel that doctors don’t know all there is to know about blood. Each one’s blood is unique. Now I am beginning to learn how God feels about blood.”
His continued comments on the world situation led to a discussion of what the Bible says about our living in the “last days.” The Witness left him the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. When, at his invitation, the Witness returned, the lawyer said:
“I have no objection to anything I read in that little book. I found some things very different from the religious beliefs I was brought up with. I told my wife that I want to be a Jehovah’s Witness. I have spent almost a lifetime studying all these books [pointing to his law library], and I have decided it’s not too late. I am going to study the Bible.”
The visitor explained the Bible study service that Jehovah’s Witnesses offer. He responded that his wife also was interested and he invited the Witness to come to his home to study with both of them.
Lawyers and Judges
Many others in the legal profession responded favorably to the campaign and the information in the Blood booklet.
Gregory King is an administrator connected with the New York State Supreme Court. Being a Witness, he gave a booklet to one of the Court justices, who then inquired at length about blood. Finally, the judge expressed amazement, saying that he never knew that Witnesses welcomed nonblood alternatives, and that he had mistakenly thought that they were fighting for some “right to die.” The justice commented that the presentation in court usually is one-sided. Feeling that other judges would like to hear the Witnesses’ side, he gave permission for the internal mailing system to be used to reach all the judges.
It was similar in Pasadena, California. After hearing what was in the booklet, a judge said: “I’ve always wondered why Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t take transfusions. Now I guess I’ll find out.” Though the Witness had asked for only a couple of minutes, the judge discussed the matter for over an hour and made it possible to get the booklet to all the other judges under his oversight.
After leaving a booklet with an attorney in a wealthy Washington, D.C., suburb, Gladys Clemmons received a letter, saying:
“I read with real interest the brochure you left with me explaining why Jehovah’s Witnesses are opposed to receiving blood transfusions. It was a very interesting article and the explanation, I believe, was convincing.”
Likewise a lawyer in a U.S. Attorney’s office wrote:
‘I have read with great enthusiasm the pamphlet you gave me on Friday, October 7, 1977. The medical-legal issues raised and answered therein have convinced me that Jehovah’s Witnesses should be afforded every opportunity to have the final say on whether or not blood transfusions should or should not be rendered to a member. I believe this to be a fundamental privilege guaranteed by the Constitution.’
A judge in the juvenile court division in Orlando, Florida, commented: “I’m a strong believer in religious freedom. I think this booklet will be of great help to me so I can understand your view of blood transfusion.” Another such judge in Orlando said: “I’m very happy you came to give me this booklet because I’ve often wondered why Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t accept blood. In fact, I asked my minister to show me from the Bible, but he said he didn’t know where to find it.”
A judge in California told Ralph Hainsworth:
‘I never understood why Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood. After reading the booklet and looking up the scriptures I realized that it is a religious reason pure and simple.’ Would he issue an order to force blood? ‘Absolutely not; the question has no place in the court. It is a question of religion and the courts should not interfere.’ What about in the case of a minor? ‘It would be hard, but, again after reading the booklet, the parents have the responsibility for their children, physically and spiritually. I’m placing the booklet in my files. The fact that the question of blood is primarily a religious issue and not a medical one impressed me most.’
Fine Teaching Aid
In many places the material on blood will be used in teaching medical and law students.
Camillo Iacoboni left two booklets with the doctor in charge of nursing at Towson State University in Maryland. When he came back the next week Mr. Iacoboni was told that the department personnel had gone over the material and wanted 175 copies, one for each nursing student and faculty member. The doctor said: “The booklets will be used as supplementary material for each student in a course dealing with religious beliefs affecting treatment.”
What about doctors and lawyers? At the university in Lubbock, Texas, the doctor in charge of studies in the Medical College wanted a booklet for inspection. When Mr. L. St. Clair returned, the doctor had considered it with the dean and they had concluded that each year the medical students should study the booklet. They requested 185 copies to start with and listed a local Witness minister as a consultant to explain the Biblical position to the future doctors. Mr. St. Clair also contacted the dean of the law school, who decided: “If you will furnish these booklets, we will institute this in our studies. We will need 465 booklets.”
The minister who coordinated the booklet campaign in San Antonio, Texas, concluded: “In my 60 years of association with Jehovah’s Witnesses, this campaign was the finest exhibition of zeal and cooperation in carrying out a major project.”
What about the many professionals who received the helpful material on blood? A New York physician wrote:
“We in medicine realize the important work done by Jehovah’s Witnesses in the dissemination of their concepts. They have had a profound influence on medical thought.”
Truly, this worldwide educational campaign has been very rewarding in many ways.