Should We Allow Jehovah’s Witnesses to Die?

Two cases involving Jehovah Witnesses who refused blood transfusions are in the news: a 22-year-old with sickle cell anaemia who died in the UK and a 4-year-old girl in Australia who lived after a court-ordered transfusion.

In Britain, a 22-year-old man refused a blood transfusion. After consulting lawyers, his doctors decided to respect his decision and he passed away after about three weeks in hospital. There were concerns that the man’s mother, who was with him when he died, and an elder from his church were exerting an undue influence. However, a doctor assessed him and declared that he was fully aware of what he was doing.

At the moment there are no substitutes for blood transfusions that can be offered to Jehovah’s Witnesses although researchers predict that a product will be available in 5 to 10 years.

In Adelaide, the parents of a four-year-old with leukaemia refused to allow her to have the blood transfusion she needed. Her father told the media:  “We adhere to strict Bible principles and one of those is to abstain from blood. We want the best possible treatment for (her) and the hospital are doing a great job. The only thing we don’t consent to is the issue of blood.”

The South Australian Supreme Court ordered the hospital to give her a transfusion, which had a 90% chance of saving her life. “I’m satisfied that there are no alternatives to the provision of a blood transfusion. I’m satisfied that it’s in (the girl’s) best interest to received [sic] the blood transfusion despite her parents’ objections,” said Justice Richard White.

Michael Cook

By

Michael Cook likes bad puns, bushwalking and black coffee. He did a BA at Harvard University in the US where it was good for networking, but moved to Sydney where it wasn’t. He also did a PhD on an obscure corner of Australian literature. He has worked as a book editor and magazine editor and has published articles in magazines and newspapers in the US, the UK and Australia.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MGY6U3CYWAQR7QHFGGYFZO5MSU Gunther Snodgrass

    “should we allow..”???? Last I checked, it wasn’t our place to play God by taking away a person’s free will that was given to him by our creator.

  • Pargontwin

    From the first time I heard about this (I was nine or ten, and it was on an episode of Dr. Kildare – Yes, I’m dating myself here – ), I never understood how we could espouse freedom of religion and yet still force someone to accept a treatment that was against their religion.  This is no better than when DSS forces parents to allow extraordinary means to keep an infant alive who would otherwise die within hours of birth, an infant who then survives in a persistent vegetative state for the rest of his life – which, at best, lasts about ten years, and leaves the family destitute.  Yes, it tears at the heart to see someone allow a child to die who could be saved with such a simple treatment, but then those parents have to live with that guilt for the rest of their lives – and even a child of four can pick up on that.  I’ll lay odds that kid is probably going to grow up with guilt feelings she won’t even be able to express.  I don’t agree with their beliefs, but I will defend to the death their right to practice them.  Otherwise, I would be nothing more than a hypocrite when I criticize the government for suppressing Christianity.

  • Victoria

    The court in Australia did the right thing. While the parents must have their beliefs respected, a child is not capable of making the decision for herself. So the court stepped in for the parents, since their beliefs hindered them from accepting a recognized medical procedure. I cannot think of an equivalent scenario for Catholics, since we accept standard medical practices.

  • MaryK

    I believe the courts should always step in when the recipient is under the age of consent (or otherwise unable to consent by reason of mental disability) and the decision is being made by parents/siblings/church elders – not so sure when he/she makes the decision for self.  In the two examples you mention, the courts made the right decision for the child, but the 22-year old man’s decision (assuming he had all his faculties at the time his declaration was made) was the determining factor.

  • Michelle Marie Allen

    We as Catholics should be in union with the idea of the “sanctity” of life.  Freedom of religion is a civil right. But we as Catholics are held to a higher authority, God. My heart goes out to the little girl. She has NO choice and a child would appear to be just a “piece of property” that some parents think they own.God bless Justice White for protecting this little girl !

    I am sure there will be more legal battles in regards to this case in Australia, but until then, the South Australian Supreme Court recognizes the value of a minor child’s life, regardless of parents who believe otherwise.

  • Candybear51

    There are alternatives to blood transfusions for the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Why didn’t you report on those?  And there are good medical reasons for not using blood transfusions.

  • S Brown

    Should JWs be allowed to die? If that’s what they want/chose then yes.

  • Jill

    Interesting question. This is when I wish I had had some sort of formal logic class. The argument that the child is a minor, so the courts need to step in sends a shiver down my spine. What if the scenario is a minor who is pregnant and the courts hold the position that she should have an abortion? Or if it is a handicapped individual and the court rules for sterilization? I don’t personally agree with the Jehovah’s stance on blood products, but who are we to impose our opinions? I think this is a slippery slope, especially with the HHS controversy so fresh in our own backyard. We should all be free to decline intrusive medical procedures. What a terrible decision for those parents to have to make. They may even feel that it is a test by God to show their faithfulness, not unlike Abram’s test. I would really appreciate some logical arguments to help me think more deeply here. I am not completely sure of my opinion . . .

  • Mia

    Don’t get me started on this…my husband is an ex-JW (converted to Catholicism) but hospital records still had him listed as a Witness. When he needed blood (he had lost so much from internal bleeding and had to go into surgery immediately) the doctor asked me about a transfusion consent. Little did I know it was due to the uncorrected records; I okayed the procedure, of course. Later, when his mother found out that he was hospitalized due to an uncontrollable bleeding ulcer, the first thing she asked me was not how he was doing, only if he had received blood. I almost lost it, but calmly told her yes, your son was dying, there was no alternative and she answered “but it wasn’t his decison.” I could have agreed, but I told her the truth; he knew about it and wanted to live. She was unaware that he had converted, (still is, but she suspects),and shunned him for a while, although they are on speaking terms now.

    As far as freedom of religion goes, if one’s religious beliefs involved cannabalizing another person, would that be okay to comply with (especially if you are the intended victim)? What about a religion that orders stoning to death for transgressions: does one stand by and allow that to happen? Seriously, there’s freedom of religion, subjective religious teachings, and there is objective natural (moral) law involving life and death, which from my understanding supersedes all man-made tenets. By the way, the HHS mandate concerning contraception: this does not involve just a Catholic teaching; again, this deals with natural (moral) law.        

  • MaryK

    Well done, Mia!  That’s the best comment I’ve seen to this point.  There is nothing like coming to the heart of the matter through a person who has been there, done that.  And I agree with you, although i posted earlier that only an adult should be given the power to deny a blood transfusion for himself/herself – I’ll amend that to give no one that decision power, just as one of us could not just stand by and let another commit suicide simply bc it was his choice.

    I am happy for you that your husband survived.  I also know how hard it is to tell family of a conversion to Catholicism, esp when they come from a hard-line background.  My family was not JW, but equally against the Catholic Church.  I waited until i was fully baked before telling them – and it was followed with a lot of heartache.  Occasionally i still am asked when I’m returning to “where i belong”.

  • Mia

    The Catholic position (and universal natural law, if you will) is clearly stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: we are to defend life at all times. This is not an opinion, nor is it negotiable. It doesn’t matter if one personally believes otherwise. Objective truths exist, or we would have complete chaos in the world.
     
     Receiving blood in order to save one’s life is not an intrusive medical procedure (as in my husband’s case, with massive hemorrhaging, there are no alternatives to emergency blood transfusions). With regard to the Witnesses: parents don’t own their children.They make certain decisions for the child, assumedly in the child’s best interest. Denying a life-saving procedure is not in the child’s best interest. Again, we go back to defending life. If there is any doubt, we must err on the side of life. This is not the same thing as the government attempting to take over a parent’s role. The reference to a minor and a forced abortion, that would be taking a life, not preserving it; abortion is wrong, regardless of what the court says. Likewise, forced sterilization. Don’t forget, slavery was legal at one time.
     
    By the way, the JW “doctrine” about abstaining from blood only dates back to around 1945. Prior to that, there was no prohibition, so I get shivers thinking about all those who needlessly died, because one human being (not a divine being) decided to reinterpret some Biblical passages. People have done many erroneous things in good faith; some drank Kool Aid, for example. 

  • Mia

     

    The Catholic position (and universal natural law, if you will)
    is clearly stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: we are to defend
    life at all times. This is not an opinion, nor is it negotiable. It doesn’t
    matter if one personally believes otherwise. Objective truths exist, or we
    would have complete chaos in the world.

    Receiving blood in order to save one’s life is not an intrusive medical
    procedure (as in my husband’s case, with massive hemorrhaging, there are no
    alternatives to emergency blood transfusions). With regard to the Witnesses:
    parents don’t own their children. They make certain decisions for the child,
    assumedly in the child’s best interest. Denying a life-saving procedure is not
    in the child’s best interest. Again, we go back to defending life. If there is
    any doubt, we must err on the side of life. This is not the same thing as the
    government attempting to take over a parent’s role. In reference to the minor
    and a forced abortion; that would be taking a life, not preserving it; abortion
    is wrong, regardless of what the court says. Likewise, forced sterilization.
    Don’t forget, slavery was legal at one time.

    By the way, the JW “doctrine” about abstaining from blood only dates
    back to around 1945. Prior to that, there was no prohibition, so I get shivers
    thinking about all those who needlessly died, because one human being (not a
    divine being) decided to reinterpret some Biblical passages. People have done
    many erroneous things in good faith; some drank Kool Aid, for example.

    The Catholic position (and universal natural law, if you will)
    is clearly stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: we are to defend
    life at all times. This is not an opinion, nor is it negotiable. It doesn’t
    matter if one personally believes otherwise. Objective truths exist, or we
    would have complete chaos in the world.

    Receiving blood in order to save one’s life is not an intrusive medical
    procedure (as in my husband’s case, with massive hemorrhaging, there are no
    alternatives to emergency blood transfusions). With regard to the Witnesses:
    parents don’t own their children. They make certain decisions for the child,
    assumedly in the child’s best interest. Denying a life-saving procedure is not
    in the child’s best interest. Again, we go back to defending life. If there is
    any doubt, we must err on the side of life. This is not the same thing as the
    government attempting to take over a parent’s role. In reference to the minor
    and a forced abortion; that would be taking a life, not preserving it; abortion
    is wrong, regardless of what the court says. Likewise, forced sterilization.
    Don’t forget, slavery was legal at one time.

    By the way, the JW “doctrine” about abstaining from blood only dates
    back to around 1945. Prior to that, there was no prohibition, so I get shivers
    thinking about all those who needlessly died, because one human being (not a
    divine being) decided to reinterpret some
    Biblical passages. People have done
    many erroneous things in good faith; some drank Kool Aid, for example.

  • Cdeshone

    Mia, you state,

      “The Catholic position (and universal natural law, if you will)is clearly stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: we are to defendlife at all times. This is not an opinion, nor is it negotiable. It doesn’tmatter if one personally believes otherwise.” 

      Tell me, have you ever heard of the inquision?  Kinda blows you statement to pieces.

  • Nahenahe

    So interesting. I watched a video for a report ” Jehovah’s Witnesses and Blood Transfusion”. You all should watch it. It gave me a better understanding on their why or why nots. It talks about the alternatives to blood transfusions that hospitals and doctors have used , which are cleaner, safer, and have a much quicker recovery time. Also major operations are being done without the use of any blood transfusions, using different procedures and techniques. Again, recovery time was quicker. The JWs are not just declining medical treatment. They are following what the Bible says, to abstain from blood, but also are finding the best medical treatment. I borrowed it from a friend, but I think anyone can get one from the JWs church.

  • Michelle Allen

    Genesis 9:4
    “Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”
    This is only one of four Bibles verses that speak of abstaining from blood. I wonder how many JW go to a “kosher” butcher as meat products not killed correctly for food will have blood in its meat ? No medium rare steaks for them !

    In normal “eating” something means it must must go through the digestive tract, although sometimes in extreme situations administering high-calorie solutions intravenously provides nutritional support (total parenteral nutrition, or TPN) maybe necessary. Do the JW boycott TPN as well ?

    Freedom of religion is a slippery slope as that would include “allowing” people of the Islam faith being able to practice the “sharia law” in the US without penality.

    Bottom line is this, as Catholics the “sanctity of life” must always be respected.
    Also, did these parents ask for these alternative treatments that you say work better etc. ? According to the article  they won’t be available for at least 5-10 years. 

MENU