Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Dying for Jehovah - Is refusing a blood transfusion really about choice?

I fell exhausted into bed last night after a long day on the media trail with Aquarius PR client Rachel Underhill, founder of, a support group for former Jehovah’s Witnesses. We fixed up numerous press, TV and radio interviews for Rachel to comment on the tragic case of Emma Gough, 22, who died shortly after the birth of her twins, after refusing to accept a donor blood transfusion on the grounds of her religion. Having been through a very similar experience after the birth of her own twins eight years ago, Rachel was uniquely placed to offer her take on the heartbreaking story.

Media opinion, expressed both on air, in print, and privately to me and Rachel, was that this was an appalling waste of a young life. A new mum, recently married, has died, arguably in the most preventable of circumstances, leaving two babies without a mother and a father who has a lot of explaining to do.

While the Jehovah’s Witnesses are right to argue that donor blood transfusions are not without risk, to refuse them on the grounds of two Bible quotations (Genesis 9 v 3-6 and Acts 15 v 29) seems like madness, especially given that even Orthodox Jews and all other Christian denominations see no prohibition on blood transfusions in these verses.

I would be the first to defend everyone’s right to live out the faith of their choice, provided they do so within the secular law. However, there must surely come a time when religious leaders preach messages so out of kilter with others in their broader faith group, messages so alien to rational, common-sense thought, that they must be put under pressure to change? That is what Rachel, by telling her story again and again so bravely yesterday, was trying to do.

Will anyone listen? The Jehovah’s Witnesses have changed their policies on other issues in the past, so we have to hope. They used to refuse vaccinations; these are now permissible. Accepting a donor organ is no longer prohibited but seen as a personal choice.

So far, despite several deaths, they have refused to review their policy on donor blood, instead putting their hope in alternatives using blood substitutes and own-blood transfusions. They also insist every Jehovah’s Witness has a choice whether or not to accept a transfusion.

I wonder what they mean by ‘choice.’ What I find particularly galling about Emma’s case is that an elder from her place of worship admitted that Jehovah’s Witnesses who accept blood transfusions are ‘disfellowshipped’ or exiled from the religion, and will thereafter be shunned by the rest of the Witnesses’ community.

If you have been brought up from birth in the religion; had it drummed into you that receiving transfusions is wrong; believe you face eternal damnation if you do not live in accordance with the Bible and know you will be alienated from all your friends and family if you do not follow the rules, you will be a brave man or woman indeed who breaks rank. Especially if your ‘choice’ has to be made when you are lying on what might be your deathbed.

Labels: , ,

New Christmas Stamps

The new Christmas stamps were unveiled yesterday and, featuring exquisite prints of either angels or the Virgin and Child, they have been welcomed by the Church of England. The C of E railed against last years snow scene images, and some media organisations are suggesting this is why the Royal Mail has returned to religious images.

Actually the Royal Mail adopts a policy of alternating the use of ‘secular’ images one year and religious images the next, and have already announced that next years stamps will feature pantomine figures. This strikes me as being perfectly fair; after all, the secular aspects of Christmas are enjoyed by both Christians and non-Christians alike. They only detract from the message of Christmas if you choose to let them do so.

Labels: , ,