‘She Taught Us to Respect Her Religion’
ONE of Jehovah’s Witnesses from the province of Rovigo, Italy, learned that she had a tumor and that her condition was serious. After several hospital stays, during which she asked to be treated without blood transfusions, she was assisted at home by nurses from the local cancer nursing service.
This 36-year-old patient’s strong faith and readiness to cooperate profoundly impressed the medical personnel who treated her. Shortly before the cancer caused the patient’s death, one of the nurses who assisted her wrote in a nursing magazine about the experience with the patient whom he called Angela.
“Angela is full of life and has the will to live. She is aware of her condition and her serious illness, and as any of us would be, she is searching for a solution, a remedy, or a medicine. . . . We nurses entered her life little by little. We did not encounter resistance. On the contrary, Angela’s openness made everything easy. It was a pleasure to call on her, since we knew that it would be a time of genuine human contact and mutual benefit. . . . We immediately realized that her religion was going to be an obstacle to dealing with her illness.” That was his opinion because he felt that Angela should be given blood transfusions, which she refused.
“As health-care professionals, we told Angela that we did not agree with her decision, but with her help, we understood what life meant to her. We also understood the importance of her religion to both her and her family. Angela has not quit. She has not given in to the illness. She is strong. She wants to live, to fight, and to keep on living. She has expressed her determination, her belief. She has a determination that often we do not have, a faith, which in our case is not as firm. . . . Angela has taught us the importance of respecting her religion, something quite distinct from our professional ethics. . . . We believe that what Angela has taught us is of great importance, for we encounter all sorts of people, all sorts of circumstances, and all sorts of religions, and we can learn from and offer something to everyone we contact.”
The magazine article then drew attention to the Code of Professional Ethics for Italian Nurses, approved in 1999, which says: “The nurse acts, taking into consideration the individual’s religious, ethical, and cultural values, as well as race and sex.” At times, it may be difficult for doctors and nurses to respect a patient’s religious convictions, and one cannot but appreciate those who are willing to do so.
The decisions Jehovah’s Witnesses make concerning their health and medical care are well-thought-out. They consider seriously what the Scriptures say, and as illustrated by Angela’s case, they are not fanatics. (Philippians 4:5) Around the globe, an increasing number of health-care professionals are willing to respect the conscience of their Witness patients.