Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Medical Profession Cooperate
IN 1945, Jehovah’s Witnesses discerned that blood transfusion was an unscriptural use of blood. Embodied in the Mosaic Law, the restriction was carried forward into the Christian Greek Scriptures. Acts 15:28, 29 states: “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!” (See Leviticus 17:10-12.) The Witnesses’ refusal to accept blood transfusions led to many confrontations with some in the medical profession.
Hospital Liaison Committees
To support the Witnesses in their refusal to receive blood, to clear away misunderstandings on the part of doctors and hospitals, and to create a more cooperative spirit between medical institutions and Witness patients, Hospital Liaison Committees were established by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Made up of mature Witnesses trained to deal understandingly with doctors and hospitals, these committees defused confrontations, and they established a more cooperative spirit. From a handful of such committees in 1979, their number has now grown to 850 in 65 lands. That means that their helpful services are now available to some 3.5 million of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
More than 4,500 elders in congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been trained to speak with doctors to help them see from medical literature itself all the things that can be done without resorting to blood transfusions. In cases where there is some special need, appropriate articles are faxed directly to the hospital to help physicians treat Witnesses without using blood. Or the committees arrange for consultation with other cooperative doctors to develop strategies for bloodless treatment or surgery.
For example, in multitudes of cases of blood loss resulting in severe anemia, in which doctors said there was need for a transfusion to elevate the red-cell count, Hospital Liaison Committee members have been able to share articles from medical literature showing the efficacy of recombinant erythropoietin (EPO) to do the same thing. This synthetic hormone acts like the natural erythropoietin found in our kidneys and stimulates the bone marrow to send new, fresh red cells into the bloodstream.
Some doctors have felt that EPO would not work fast enough to make up the need, but a number of cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses have illustrated how quickly it gets results. In one instance, on the very day after EPO was administered, the count of new red cells was already four times normal! In another day the patient stabilized, and by the fourth day, the red-cell count was starting to rise. In a few more days, it was rising swiftly. The patient survived. In this way the doctors as well as the patient were benefited by the activities of these Hospital Liaison Committees.
When doctors in Australia said they were unable to save the life of a Witness patient without using blood for treating a rare tropical disease, they appealed to the local Hospital Liaison Committee for any help the committee could give them in locating information on nonblood medical management. The Australia branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses was notified of the need. They got in touch with Hospital Information Services at the international headquarters offices of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York. It researched a medical data base. Helpful articles were faxed to Australia. Just 11 hours after leaving the doctor’s office, the Australian Hospital Liaison Committee member was back with the needed articles. These proved to be effective, and the patient recovered. Faxed medical material has been sent from New York to as far away as Nepal.
Quality Research and Assistance
The quality of the research done by Jehovah’s Witnesses in the medical literature is sound and up-to-date. A registered nurse who is the codirector of surgical services at a hospital in Oregon, U.S.A., said in an article in a medical publication for operating-room managers: “Jehovah’s Witness[es] . . . [are] way ahead of us. They are the most knowledgeable about alternatives to blood and blood products and often provide us with the literature before we even hear about it.”—OR Manager, January 1993, page 12.
Some very prominent doctors and medical centers that can treat without using homologous blood have made themselves available for consultations as to their approaches and procedures. Their generous response to this need has aided in saving lives, as seen in cases of successful treatment for leukemia and in various kinds of surgery. These medical consultations were often conducted by international telephone calls.
Also indicating the extent to which Jehovah’s Witnesses have gone to assist those in need when they face a faith-challenging medical situation has been the arrangement for transferring a patient from one hospital to another, from one part of a country to another, and even from one country to another. Some examples: An adult patient was flown from Suriname to Puerto Rico; another was flown from Samoa to Hawaii; an infant, from Austria to Florida, U.S.A.
More Doctors Cooperating
Improvement in the situation for Jehovah’s Witnesses can also be seen in the growing number of physicians willing to cooperate with them in this matter, from about 5,000 five years ago to more than 30,000 now in 65 lands. That number of capable doctors has made possible another favorable development—the forming of more than 30 bloodless medical and surgery centers in various lands.
Thus, nowadays, at least in North America, one hardly hears of efforts to force a blood transfusion on an adult, and many other lands are developing to that same point. Most problems now are with newborn babies and especially with premature births. These preemies start out with many problems associated with underdeveloped organs that do not function normally, such as the lungs and the kidneys. But doctors are finding ways to treat these conditions without blood transfusions. A synthetic surfactant, for example, is available to relieve respiratory distress syndrome. The use of EPO is becoming widely accepted for dealing with anemia of prematurity.
Help for Medical Personnel and Officials
To help pediatricians and neonatologists to treat children of Jehovah’s Witnesses without blood transfusions, Hospital Information Services has produced a triple-indexed volume of 55 articles from medical literature that demonstrates what can be done without blood for a host of problems of the newborn.
To reach judges, social workers, children’s hospitals, neonatologists, and pediatricians with information on the available nonblood medical alternatives, Jehovah’s Witnesses have produced specifically for these medical personnel and officials a 260-page volume called Family Care and Medical Management for Jehovah’s Witnesses.a It is a loose-leaf handbook so that it can be kept up-to-date. Since there has been some misunderstanding about family life among Jehovah’s Witnesses, it also makes clear the love parents have for their children in a decidedly beneficial, caring atmosphere produced by a life-style engendered by Bible teaching.
How is that publication being received? After examining its contents, the vice president of a children’s hospital in Pennsylvania, U.S.A., said he would be expecting his staff to digest and use it. He added: “If it doesn’t come back to me dog-eared and worn, I will want to know why!” Already some judges have amended their court orders to require that physicians exhaust all nonblood alternatives before using blood. Children have been treated without blood and have gone home well.
A typical reaction was that of a judge of juvenile affairs in Ohio, U.S.A. He was so impressed with the Family Care volume that he ordered seven additional copies for his colleagues. He now modifies his court orders to balance concerns of the physician with the rights of the parents, accomplishing this in two ways. He specifies in his order (1) that the doctors must first exhaust all alternative treatments before using blood; and (2) that the physicians must assure him that the blood they will use has been tested and is free from both AIDS and hepatitis. In three orders issued since he started modifying them, all three of the children were successfully treated without blood transfusions.
Dr. Charles H. Baron, professor of law at the Boston College Law School, presented a paper last year at a meeting of academics at the University of Paris. His subject was “Blood, Sin, and Death: Jehovah’s Witnesses and the American Patients’ Rights Movement.” In the paper itself, the following paragraph stated concerning the work of the Witnesses’ Hospital Liaison Committees:
“They have even managed to get American medicine to reconsider some of its beliefs in the light of further evidence. In the process, all of American society has benefited. Not only Jehovah’s Witnesses, but patients in general, are today less likely to be given unnecessary blood transfusions because of the work of the Witnesses’ Hospital Liaison Committees. Patients in general enjoy greater autonomy over a whole range of health care decisions because of the work done by the Witnesses as part of an overall patients’ rights movement. And the causes of freedom in general and religious freedom in particular have been advanced by the Witnesses’ dedicated resistance to efforts to force them to take action inconsistent with their religious beliefs.”
All this activity by Hospital Liaison Committees may not be directly preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom, but it is surely answering a direct challenge made to our worship in what the first century governing body called one of the “necessary things” of our sacred service. (Acts 15:28, 29) Interestingly, however, our bold yet dignified outreach to communicate has opened the way for some medical professionals to respond to the Kingdom message. Several members of Hospital Liaison Committees have started Bible studies with doctors they met through committee activity, two of such doctors recently being baptized.
So with the help of the Hospital Liaison Committee arrangement, Jehovah’s Witnesses are being assisted to obey Jehovah’s perfect law on abstaining from blood, not compromising their integrity and still getting needed medical care. (Psalm 19:7) There has indeed been continued good success in bridging the gap that once existed. Doctors and hospitals are now better informed on how they can provide available nonblood medical management. For patients, relatives, religious associates, and hospital personnel, that produces what everyone wants—the healthy recovery of the patient.—Contributed by Hospital Information Services at the Watch Tower Society’s world headquarters.
a Available only in English.
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Liaison Committee confers with a doctor
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