Bridging the Gap Between Doctors and Witness Patients
DOCTORS the world over know basically one thing about Jehovah’s Witnesses: They refuse blood transfusions. However, many doctors know little else about the Witnesses. So when they want to transfuse blood into a Witness patient, a refusal may strike them as completely unreasonable. Thus, a lamentable gap may separate physician and patient.
All too few doctors realize that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not against medical treatment and that their stand on blood is both nonnegotiable and firmly rooted in Scriptural law. Meanwhile, the reasonableness of this Scriptural stand has been steadily vindicated by a flood of new scientific findings on both the dangers of homologous transfusions and the safety of alternatives to transfusion. But how can Jehovah’s Witnesses get this information across to the medical community?
Hospital Liaison Committees
To that end, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses directed the establishing of hospital liaison committees in major cities with large medical institutions. In the United States, some one hundred committees, with an average of five ministers on each, are already forming a bridge between the medical world and the Witnesses. Earlier this year the arrangement was extended to other lands. From February 19 to March 27, three members of the Hospital Information Services in Brooklyn visited eight branch offices of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Pacific area.
The purpose was threefold: to hold seminars to train preselected Witness ministers for hospital liaison committee work, to train branch personnel to manage a Hospital Information Services desk in each branch, and to visit hospitals and doctors so as to encourage continued and expanded treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses without using blood. Four seminars were held: one in Sydney for Australia and New Zealand; one in Manila for the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Taiwan; one in Ebina City for Japan and Korea; and the last one in Honolulu for Hawaii.
The program used both slides and video to explain the function and content of blood and the growing list of medical alternatives to homologous blood. The discussions covered ways to help Jehovah’s Witnesses when they face problems involving blood. The seminar also stressed the value of cooperating with doctors and hospitals, thereby making it easier for them to respect the Witnesses’ stand. One Japanese committee member said: “The program really equipped us to embark on the work of cultivating understanding.” More than 350 Witnesses from all walks of life were trained at the four seminars.
Before the visits, the branch offices made appointments with prominent surgeons and senior staff members at major hospitals to discuss nonblood treatment for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Three teams at each branch were assigned to make these visits, each one headed by one of the three representatives from Brooklyn. This not only gave on-the-spot training to those assigned to be hospital committee members but also made them feel comfortable when talking with doctors and health-care professionals. More than 55 such calls were made in this six-week period.
Bridges of Cooperation
The results were gratifying. In Australia one visiting team met with the assistant to the minister of health for the state of New South Wales. They discussed with him the performing of operations without blood at many health-care centers, suggesting that Australia could become a center for such surgery for Jehovah’s Witnesses in the South Pacific. He saw no reason why teams of doctors could not be set up to do such surgery. Twenty-two visits were made in Australia. One director of a hospital said: “You know more about the subject of blood and alternative treatment than we do.” The chief executive of a group of seven hospitals gave assurance that he was going to appoint a professor of surgery to pursue the idea of establishing a team of surgeons at one of their hospitals to provide bloodless treatment for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
At Manila’s heart center—considered by some to be the best in the Orient—it was pointed out to the medical director that about a hundred of Jehovah’s Witnesses awaiting heart surgery were put at the end of the line because they would not take blood. She said that she would put a stop to that practice. The medical director of the Philippines’ most prestigious hospital, St. Luke’s, was shown what the medical literature is now saying about bloodless surgery, and he agreed that it is safer. “It is the coming thing,” he admitted. “It is the only way we can avoid AIDS and hepatitis.” He indicated that he was prepared to give Witnesses the opportunity to get bloodless treatment at his facility; he is also president of the hospital’s blood bank.
At Japan’s three-day seminar, Korea was represented as well, with a delegation of 44 of Jehovah’s Witnesses, 5 of whom were doctors. From Japan came 255 Witness ministers, including 41 doctors, among them some neurosurgeons and anesthesiologists, plus 2 lawyers. Twenty committees were established in Japan, and seven in Korea.
After the seminar, the instructors went with local hospital committee members to visit doctors and hospitals in the Tokyo area to foster a cooperative relationship. “We visited an assistant professor of obstetrics at a university hospital,” reports one Japanese minister. “He had delivered babies for at least ten women who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. One of them had lost 2,800 cubic centimeters of blood, and her hemoglobin level went down to 3.5 grams/deciliter. (The average for women is 14 grams/deciliter.) But the doctor managed the delivery without blood. Although a Buddhist, his policy is to respect his patients’ beliefs. He agreed to continue accommodating patients who are Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
A medical director in Yokohama agreed to have his hospital listed among those willing to cooperate and said that they will be happy to accept Witness patients rejected by other hospitals. “To treat Jehovah’s Witnesses without blood,” said the doctor, “is indeed a challenge, but I appreciate the Witnesses because they have given me opportunities to improve my skill as a doctor.” It was also in Yokohama that one gynecologist said: “I would fight for patients’ rights in court if I were sued for respecting the patient’s will and not giving blood transfusions.”
The committees that were set up for Korea are reporting good success. On May 26 a visit was made to the Yonsei University Hospital. It is well-known throughout Korea and has three branches. Members from all these facilities attended, making a total of 62. A professor of anesthesiology talked on “Anesthetic Management of Jehovah’s Witness Patients.” The information he gave will be written up in a journal of anesthesiology in Korea. Since it is one of the outstanding hospitals in Korea, this should have a good influence on other hospitals and doctors. No question came up that was not thoroughly covered at the seminar in Japan.
Five liaison committees were set up for Hawaii, and all of them came to Honolulu for the seminar. Most of them were taken on hospital visits. At the Hawaii Healthcare Center, the director said he would write an article about us in their newsletter to send to all the hospitals in Hawaii.
At the largest health-care center, Queen’s in Honolulu, the committee pointed out that the consent form used by the center contained an inaccuracy in wording that misrepresented Jehovah’s Witnesses. It implied that Witnesses would rather die than have a “lifesaving” blood transfusion. It was clarified that this was not our position at all, that we came to the hospital to protect our health and life. Their wording made it appear that blood was all good and that no blood equals death. Their wording failed to admit the possibility of death due to transfusions, thus not offering the patient an informed choice as to which risks he was willing to take. The hospital lawyer said: “Let me see that!” As he read it, he said: “I didn’t write this!” As the lawyer and the administrator left, the administrator said to the lawyer: ‘I think we ought to go over this document together.’
New Committee Fulfills Its Purpose
Within days after the training session in Hawaii, a Witness was rushed to the hospital severely anemic, her blood count dangerously low. No bleeding could be found; exploratory surgery was needed. The doctor would not operate without blood. She was transferred to another hospital where another doctor also refused to operate. The newly formed liaison committee appeared, talked with the medical director and the attending physician, and explained that, in effect, the patient was being abandoned. The doctor still refused to operate and was dismissed from the case. Two other surgeons were brought in. They performed the operation, found the source of the bleeding, and corrected the problem. Our sister survived. Without the liaison committee’s intervention, she may have died, and the media would have described it as another case of a Witness ‘dying without needed blood.’ In actuality, in such cases the Witnesses have died without needed surgery when competent surgeons could have saved them.
On an international scale, then, hospital liaison committees are working to bridge the gap between the medical community and Jehovah’s Witnesses through meaningful communication and mutual understanding. The results have been gratifying. More and more doctors are coming to see that good medical practice and skillful surgery can well accommodate the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the United States, over 6,500 doctors are willing to do so.
On their part, Witnesses should continue to make every effort to be cooperative and reasonable patients. In that way, some doctors even come to respect the Witnesses for their adherence to high principles. As an assistant professor of urology at a medical college in Tokyo said: “I respect patients who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. They have specific values in a world where no one else has.”
The overall goal of these seminars and visits was to promote more respectful cooperation and thus avoid confrontation. All of those involved in this effort felt that this goal was achieved with gratifying success. We trust that Jehovah will continue to bless these endeavors and sustain those who obey Jehovah’s direction to abstain from blood, as his Word commands them to do.
[Box on page 24]
“Every moving animal that is alive may serve as food for you. As in the case of green vegetation, I do give it all to you. Only flesh with its soul—its blood—you must not eat.”
“As for any man of the house of Israel or some alien resident who is residing as an alien in your midst who eats any sort of blood, I shall certainly set my face against the soul that is eating the blood, and I shall indeed cut him off from among his people. For the soul of the flesh is in the blood, and I myself have put it upon the altar for you to make atonement for your souls, because it is the blood that makes atonement by the soul in it. That is why I have said to the sons of Israel: ‘No soul of you must eat blood and no alien resident who is residing as an alien in your midst should eat blood.’”
“For the holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things, to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication. If you carefully keep yourselves from these things, you will prosper. Good health to you!”
[Picture on page 23]
Hospital Committee Seminar—March 12, 1990