Observations About Blood Transfusions
MANY persons have noted that one belief distinctive with Jehovah’s Witnesses has to do with blood.
Most churches are silent on the matter, but Jehovah’s Witnesses do not hesitate to point out that God’s Word directs true worshipers to ‘abstain . . . from blood.’ (Acts 15:28, 29; Gen. 9:3, 4) As discussed in the booklet Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood, this rules out accepting blood transfusions. The booklet also offers medical evidence that this religious stand can be accommodated medically. In almost all cases the required surgery can be performed without administering blood if skilled doctors effectively use accepted alternative therapies.
Does this comment on what is possible medically seem difficult to accept? Some find it so. But consider information found in the June 1978 issue of the American College of Surgeon’s journal Bulletin (Vol. 63, No. 6).
This issue dealt with the topic “The Ethics, Morals and Religion of Surgery.” And it contained the article “Ethics in Surgery: Going Beyond Good Science” written by Dr. J. E. Dunphy, who has been described as “one of the grand old men of American medicine.” He is professor emeritus in surgery at the University of California School of Medicine, San Francisco. Dr. Dunphy observed:
“I don’t believe good science is enough. Some years ago, in a lecture before the Royal Society of Medicine in England, Lord Hunt said, ‘Faith and religion are very close. I do not believe that one can practice medicine, or for that matter do anything else well and lead a full and useful life, without faith in something on which to base thought and conduct. . . . Everything that increases a patient’s religious faith, or faith in himself, in his treatment, or in his doctors, is worthwhile and worth encouraging.’”
That led Dr. Dunphy into the issue of Jehovah’s Witnesses and blood transfusions. He said:
“We have had a number of patients at our hospital over the last 12 years who have been Jehovah’s Witnesses, and we have operated without blood transfusions. I may be wrong, but I cannot recall a patient who died because of lack of transfusion. I agree, however, a patient may have become anemic through the course of the day.
“I was fascinated to find a paper just published by [heart surgeon] Denton Cooley reporting on more than 500 major cardiac operations involving Jehovah’s Witnesses performed without transfusion and showing a mortality rate of 5 percent. The figures are comparable to his figures on patients given adequate transfusion.”
Dr. Dunphy concluded: “Transfusion certainly makes the surgeon feel better, but it may not make the patient feel better. Perhaps we all have a tendency to transfuse to make ourselves more comfortable. I think when we have a Jehovah’s Witness, we’ll do well to consider his point of view.”
Bulletin also presented Dr. Dunphy’s reply when he was asked what to do if a Witness patient began to bleed postoperatively and did not respond to nonblood plasma volume expanders.
“I think I would urge the patient to change his mind and accept a transfusion. But I would also point out that if a patient—and I am talking about the straightforward operation . . .—if that patient isn’t doing well and you think he is bleeding, a transfusion isn’t the right thing for him anyway. The right thing is [an] operation to stop the bleeding. I think if you move rapidly you can still save the patient. That’s why I say I can’t recall a patient of mine who succumbed from progressive hemorrhage because he was a Jehovah’s Witness. . . .”
From quite a different source came an interesting case in point regarding operation without transfusions. A mother in North Carolina recently wrote the Watchtower Society:
“My nine-year-old daughter, Jill, underwent a rare and dangerous neurosurgery of the spinal column, and at the same time orthopedic surgery to correct a curvature of the spine. I wish to tell you the events that led to Jill’s delightful outcome.
“Jill was born with an extra half-vertebra and rib that caused her spine to tilt. This resulted in congenital scoliosis, or side-to-side curving of the spine.
“Scoliosis afflicts many children. It can often be successfully treated with a brace. But since congenital cases are more difficult to treat, surgery often becomes necessary, being recommended when the spine curves to 30 degrees. The process of curvature can be very slow and then can suddenly accelerate. Until Jill was seven years old her spine had slowly curved to 12 degrees. Two months after her regular checkup, the curvature was 26 degrees. And one month later it was 34 degrees. Jill needed immediate orthopedic surgery.
“The orthopedic surgeon who had taken care of Jill since she was four told my husband and me that during spinal fusion surgery the patient loses a liter of blood an hour. The operation would take at least four hours. In other words, Jill would lose all her body’s blood. He said, ‘No one will help you.’ To keep her spine from curving any worse he put Jill in a brace.
“During hospitalization for that, a routine myelogram was taken. The report from it, however, was not routine. A piece of bone was found to be protruding into the interior of Jill’s spine. It could cause neurological damage and would have to be watched carefully.
“Our doctor did, though, contact colleagues in the field. Through this kindness we went to a surgeon who felt that he might be able to help Jill, Dr. B——, at Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina. It turned out to be a distressing visit.
“Dr. B——, an orthopedic surgeon, found evidence that the piece of bone had begun to paralyze Jill’s right leg. It was beginning to sever her spinal cord! Without surgery, Jill would be paralyzed from the waist down. As to chances from the surgery itself, Jill might lose the use of any body function below her waist.
“Dr. B——arranged for a neurosurgeon, Dr. O——, and assured us that bloodless surgery could and would be performed. He said that the neurosurgery shouldn’t take long, and if Jill’s signs remained good, he would go ahead and correct the curvature by performing a spinal fusion. That way Jill would have to go through surgery only once.
“Early in the morning of June 9, 1977, Dr. O—— removed the bone fragment. The procedure lasted about one and a half hours. Then Dr. B——did the orthopedic surgery. This took four and a half hours. He later told us that Jill had lost a total of 300 cc’s [less than a pint] of blood, ‘ . . . not enough to sneeze at. Six hours of surgery and she’s not even anemic!’
“But the report that worried us the most still hadn’t come. Until Jill awoke in the recovery room and Dr. O——could give her neurological tests, nothing would be known about any paralysis.
“Then suddenly after three hours of waiting in misery, the hospital doors burst open. Dr. B——strode down the hall, coat flying, arms high over his head, fingers in a victory sign! Before he said one word we knew that Jill was all right.
“Jill was at Duke for eighteen days. I cannot overstress how cooperative and supportive the staff at Duke were in caring for her. She recovered rapidly. To aid the fusion to heal and to support the spine, Jill would have to wear a body cast (like a turtle) for six months.
“Now Jill is out of her cast. Her back is nice and straight and she shares in virtually all activities. Over the years Jehovah has given her strength to endure pain and to face major surgery bravely. We watch her walk now and we are humbled.”
Reassuring medical information of this sort may aid persons to give more consideration to what man’s Creator says about blood.