Are You Ready to Face a Faith-Challenging Medical Situation?
Keep this information where you can quickly find it as needed
1 No one thinks much about the possibility of being in a hospital today or tomorrow. Still, ‘time and unforeseen occurrence befall us all.’ (Eccl. 9:11) Even if you do not accept medical treatment as your preferred form of health care, what will you do to protect yourself from an unwanted blood transfusion should an accident leave you unconscious and you are rushed to a hospital? Yes, an accident or a suddenly deteriorating health situation can abruptly bring you face-to-face with a challenge to your faith.
2 If you should find yourself in a hospital for any reason, what will you do to maintain integrity if someone there tells you that you will die without a blood transfusion? Will you hastily accept that this claim truly represents your condition? Are you fully convinced that you do not want blood? Are you ready to face this challenge to your faith and ‘abstain from blood’?—Acts 15:28, 29.
3 Successfully resisting an unwanted, spiritually contaminating blood transfusion starts with a firm conviction. Such a conviction must be based on a clear understanding of what the Bible says about blood. Otherwise, you can, in the emotion of the moment, easily be intimidated by someone who claims to know more about the situation than you do. Would you be misled into thinking that maybe doctors know more about blood than God does? Surely, in these circumstances you will want to be “firmly resolved” to do “what is right” in Jehovah’s eyes, no matter what mere humans may say. (Deut. 12:23-25) But do you have to face this challenge all by yourself?—Eccl. 4:9-12.
HOSPITAL INFORMATION SERVICES AND HOSPITAL LIAISON COMMITTEES
4 To assist those who need help when faced with a blood transfusion problem, the Society has set up Hospital Information Services at Brooklyn. It has also established 100 Hospital Liaison Committees in major U.S. cities. These committees are made up of more than 600 elders specially trained for this work.
5 Hospital Information Services is able to do research in more than 3,600 medical journals worldwide to locate information on the availability and effectiveness of many forms of bloodless surgery and treatment. It then supplies Hospital Liaison Committees, health care centers, and some doctors with information on these medical advances. (Sometimes Hospital Information Services has sent out medical articles that show what can be done without blood and successfully defused an ongoing confrontation at a hospital.) It keeps the committees posted on favorable court decisions that will assist judges in looking at our cases with added insight. It also maintains records on over 7,000 cooperative physicians so that the committees have up-to-date files to use when blood transfusion problems arise.
6 Hospital Information Services also supervises the training and work of the Hospital Liaison Committees. In the cities where they are located, Hospital Liaison Committees regularly make informative presentations to hospital staffs to improve relations with them. They also poll these staffs to find any additional doctors who will treat us without using blood. These brothers stand ready to help you, but there are crucial advance steps you must take to lay the groundwork for them to do that most effectively.
CRUCIAL ADVANCE STEPS—HAVE YOU TAKEN THEM YET?
7 First, make sure all in the family have their personal medical directive document thoroughly filled out—dated, signed, and witnessed. Some brothers arriving at a hospital with an undated and/or unwitnessed document have had its validity challenged. And do all our unbaptized children have their filled-out identification cards? If not, in an emergency involving your child, how do hospital personnel know your position on blood and whom to call?
8 Then see to it that all keep these documents with them AT ALL TIMES. Check this with your children before they go to school each day, yes, even before they go to a playground or recreational area. All of us should be sure that these documents are with us at work, when on vacation, or at a Christian convention. Never be without them!
9 Think what could happen to you if you should arrive in a serious condition at the emergency room of a hospital, unconscious and/or unable to speak for yourself. If you do not have the document with you, and there is no relative or elder yet at the hospital to speak for you, and it is concluded that you ‘need blood,’ you will likely receive a blood transfusion. Unfortunately, this has happened to some. But when we have the document, it speaks for us, expressing our will.
10 That is why a medical document is better than a medical bracelet or necklace. The latter do not explain our Bible-based reasons for our position and do not have signatures verifying what is stated. A Canadian court decision said about a sister’s document: “[The patient] has chosen in the only way possible to notify doctors and other providers of healthcare, should she become unconscious or otherwise unable to convey her wishes, that she does not consent to blood transfusions.” So never be without it!
11 Since our medical directive is designed mainly for dealing with emergency situations, then in elective surgery you would be wise to write out your own personalized, more complete advance directive (based on our medical directive) so that you can include specifics, such as the type of surgery and the names of the doctors and the hospital. It is your right to do this and thus ensure the treatment of your choice. Even though you and the doctor may not anticipate serious problems, explain that this directive is to be followed in case of any unexpected developments.—Prov. 22:3.
12 The next important step is to talk to the necessary medical personnel that you will have to deal with in either elective or emergency treatment. To whom especially should you speak?
TALK TO MEDICAL PERSONNEL
13 THE MEDICAL TEAM: This is a time when the fear of man must not prevail. (Prov. 29:25) If you appear unsure, someone may decide you are not sincere. When surgery is needed, elective or emergency, you or the nearest family member must with determination ask some pointed questions of the head of the surgical team. One important question is, Will the team respect the patient’s wishes and in all circumstances treat without blood? Without this assurance you would not be well protected.
14 State plainly and with dignified conviction what your wishes are. Make it clear that you want alternative nonblood medical management of your problem. Calmly and confidently discuss both your own advance medical directive and also the hospital’s release from liability form. If the surgeon is unwilling to work with your wishes, you will save time if you ask the hospital administrator to locate another doctor for you. That is part of his job.
15 ANESTHESIOLOGIST: Of all on the medical team that you need to talk to before surgery, YOU MUST NOT FAIL TO SPEAK TO THIS DOCTOR. Charged with keeping you alive while the surgeon operates, the anesthesiologist is the one who makes decisions about such matters as the use of blood. So you are not fully protected by just talking to the surgeon. Hence, you must speak with and convince the anesthesiologist as to your position, determining whether it will be respected or not.—Compare Luke 18:3-5.
16 The usual practice, it seems, is for the anesthesiologist to visit the patient briefly rather late on the night before surgery—too late if he is opposed to your stand on blood. Insist that the surgeon preselect a cooperative anesthesiologist that you can talk to well in advance of elective surgery. Then there will be time to locate another one if the first one is unwilling to abide by your wishes. Do not let anyone try to talk you out of this right to be satisfied with the anesthesiologist for your surgery.
17 To all of these, you must make clear your nonnegotiable stand: NO BLOOD. Ask for alternative nonblood medical management of your case. Mention any known alternatives to blood for your situation. If the medical team feels these are not useful in your case, ask them to research other possibilities in the medical literature. Assure them you can get them some information if they wish by your asking your elders to contact the nearest Hospital Liaison Committee.
EXERCISING YOUR RIGHTS
18 Examine carefully the release from liability form and the consent form the hospital asks you to sign upon admittance. Sometimes right after stating that they will respect your wishes, a succeeding paragraph will declare that the signer agrees that the hospital can administer “lifesaving” treatment when they encounter problems. That could include blood. You have the right to alter any such statements to exclude blood or cross them out altogether. Nurses may try to tell you that you cannot do that, but you can! Explain that such a form is a contract with them and that you cannot sign a contract you do not agree with. If anyone tries to force you to sign against your will, ask to speak to the administrator and/or the patient representative for that health care center.
19 Can you do such things? Yes, you can. So be aware of your rights as a patient. These human rights are not left at the front door when you enter a hospital. You do not have to give them up in order to get treatment. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise.
20 One such right is called the right of informed consent, which means that no treatment of any kind can be given you without your permission. You can even refuse all treatment if you wish. Your consent to treatment must follow a clear explanation of what the medical team intends to do, including all risks. Next, they must tell you about any alternatives that are available. Then, after you have been informed, you choose what treatment you wish.
21 To be sure of what you are consenting to, you MUST ask good questions about anything you do not understand, especially when large words or medical terms are used by the hospital personnel. For example, if a doctor says he would like to use “plasma,” you could innocently conclude he is referring to a “plasma volume expander,” but not so. Before agreeing, ask: “Is that a component of blood?” About any of his procedures, ask: “Does that treatment involve the use of blood products?” If he describes some device he would like to employ, ask: “Is my blood stored at any time during the use of this device?”
22 But what should you do if you have done all the above and there is still no cooperation or even some resistance to your position? Do not hesitate to ask for help. Some have waited too long to get help and put their very lives in danger.
VALUABLE HELP IN A TIME OF NEED
23 Note the following procedure for obtaining needed help: (1) As soon as you or a loved one faces either elective or emergency surgery where there is a confrontation because the hospital wants to use blood; or (2) if your medical situation or that of a loved one deteriorates seriously; or (3) if in the case of a child (or an adult), the doctor, a nurse, or an administrator says they are going to get a court order, then:
24 CALL YOUR LOCAL ELDERS if you have not already done so. (Indeed, because of our position on blood, it is the course of wisdom to alert our elders anytime we have to go to a health care facility.) Next, if it is deemed necessary, THE ELDERS WILL CALL THE NEAREST HOSPITAL LIAISON COMMITTEE. If you wish, some Hospital Liaison Committee members may come to the hospital at this time to help you.—Isa. 32:1, 2.
25 These Hospital Liaison Committee elders know who the cooperative doctors are in your area and can get you in touch with them and start to line up other doctors or health care centers to assist. If none are available locally, the elders will check with the next nearest committee. And if that is not successful, they will call Hospital Information Services in Brooklyn. They may also be able to arrange for consultation with a cooperative doctor who can explain to your present medical team what can be done without blood. Hospital Liaison Committee brothers have been trained to handle such situations.
26 Members of the Hospital Liaison Committees are also willing to help you or a relative talk to a doctor or an administrator, but you must request that help. Of course, these brothers cannot make decisions for you, but often they can assist you in considering the Society’s view of matters and alert you to your options medically and legally.
27 If the medical team is still disinclined to cooperate, talk to the hospital administrator about replacing them with others on his staff who will respect your wishes. If the administrator hesitates to do that and ONLY if you definitely have another surgeon lined up elsewhere and you can be transferred, then you have the option of giving the administrator a dated and signed written statement naming the uncooperative doctors and stating that they are dismissed from your case.
28 Can you do that? Yes, you have that right. And if the matter later comes before a judge, your written statement can go a long way toward his recognizing your wishes. It can also possibly open the way ethically for other surgeons now to step in and offer their services to you. And, most important, it can get you the needed medical attention before your condition deteriorates dangerously. Do not wait too long!
29 While we cannot tell anyone to obtain health insurance, we must let you know that we often have serious problems getting an otherwise usually cooperative doctor to treat those who do not have adequate or any medical coverage.
LOADED QUESTIONS TO WATCH OUT FOR
30 You should know that there are some questions that doctors and others pose that are not always asked with good motive. The one most frequently asked by doctors (and by some judges) is:
• “Would you rather die (let your child die) than accept a ‘lifesaving blood transfusion’?”
31 If you say yes, that would be correct in a religious sense. But that reply is often misunderstood and at times even produces adverse court decisions. You must remember that you are not in the ministry in this situation. Rather, you are talking about needed medical treatment. Hence, you must adapt to your audience, medical or legal.—Ps. 39:1; Col. 4:5, 6.
32 To a doctor, a judge, or a hospital administrator, “yes” can mean you want to be a martyr or want to sacrifice your child for your faith. Telling them about your strong faith in the resurrection in this situation will not usually help. They will brand you a religious fanatic, unable to make rational decisions when life is at stake. In the case of children, they will see you as a negligent parent who refuses so-called “lifesaving” medical treatment.
33 But you are NOT denying medical treatment as such. You simply differ with the doctor as to WHAT KIND of treatment. This position will often change the whole picture for them and you. Besides, it is misleading for them to make it appear as if blood is safe and is the ONLY “lifesaving” treatment. (See How Can Blood Save Your Life?, pages 7-22.) So you must make that point very clear. How can you do it? You might answer:
• “I do not want (I do not want my child) to die. If I wanted (wanted my child) to die, I would have stayed home. But I came here to get medical treatment so as to (to have my child) live. What I want is alternative nonblood medical management of my (my child’s) case. There are alternatives available.”
34 Several other questions often asked by doctors or judges are:
• “What will happen to you if a transfusion is forced by court order? Will you be held responsible?”
• “Will accepting or having a transfusion forced on you cause you to be put out of your religion or be denied eternal life? How will you be viewed by your congregation?”
35 One sister responded to a judge that in such a case she would not be responsible for what he decided. While correct from one point of view, the judge took it to mean that since she would not be held responsible, then he would take the responsibility for her. He ordered a transfusion.
36 You must understand that in asking these questions, some are usually looking for a way around your refusal to accept blood. Do not inadvertently give it to them! So how would we avoid that misunderstanding? You could reply:
• “If blood is forced on me in any way, it would be the same to me as being raped. I would suffer the emotional and spiritual consequences of that unwanted attack on me for the rest of my life. I would resist with all my strength such a violation of my body without my consent. I would make every effort to prosecute my attackers just as I would in a case of rape.”
37 The strong, graphic impression must be made that a forced transfusion is to us a repugnant violation of our bodies. It is no casual matter. So hold your ground. Make it clear you want alternative nonblood medical management.
WHAT WILL YOU DO TO BE READY?
38 We have reviewed some things that you need to do to protect yourself and your family from an unwanted blood transfusion. (Later, we hope to provide more details on handling problems that arise when infants and children are threatened with transfusions.) We have also seen what the Society has lovingly done to provide help in a time of need. What must you do with this information to be sure you are ready to face a faith-challenging medical situation?
First: Have a family discussion to rehearse these matters and to work out what you will say and do, especially in an emergency.
Next: See that you have all the documents you need.
Then: Make it a matter of serious prayer to Jehovah to back you up in your firm resolve to ‘keep abstaining from blood.’ Obeying his law on blood assures us of his favor for endless life.—Acts 15:29; Prov. 27:11, 12.
[Box on page 5]
If any medical situation deteriorates seriously to the point where a transfusion is being threatened, check this box as to what you should do:
1. Call elders in your congregation to assist you.
2. Have elders call the nearest Hospital Liaison Committee if needed.
3. The Hospital Liaison Committee can assist you in speaking to doctors and others.
4. The Hospital Liaison Committee can help you contact other doctors for consultation with present surgeons as to alternatives.
5. The Hospital Liaison Committee can also help you get transferred to a more respectful facility for needed treatment.