Tuesday, March 9, 1999 Published at 12:06 GMT
Jehovah's Witnesses 'must be allowed to die'
Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in blood transfusions
Doctors have accepted that Jehovah's Witnesses, whose faith forbids them from having blood transfusions, must be allowed the right to die if they do not consent to life-saving treatment.
However, children must be given blood where necessary irrespective of the parent's wishes.
The Association of Anaesthetists has issued guidelines to its members which state that they must respect the wishes of Jehovah's Witness patients.
Dr Michael Ward, chairman of the Association of Anaesthetists working party, which drew up the guidelines, says: "Administering blood to a Jehovah's Witness without consent has been likened by the movement to rape.
"It would not result in expulsion from the community but would have a deep psychological effect on the patient."
There are an estimated 145,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in the UK and Republic of Ireland.
They believe that accepting another person's blood is a sin.
That view has caused huge soul searching in the medical profession as doctors are charged to do all they can to save a person's life.
The Jehovah's Witness belief is based on passages in the Bible which forbid the consumption of blood.
The new guidelines were agreed to end the uncertainty over whether a doctor should put a patient's individual wishes or his duty to save life first.
The Association of Anaesthetists' report points out that to administer blood to a patient who has steadfastly refused to accept it is "unlawful, ethically unacceptable and may lead to criminal and or civil proceedings".
It adds that properly executed living wills must be respected, and each Jehovah's Witness patient should be consulted to find out what treatments they will accept.
All precautions should be taken to minimise the possibility of blood loss when a Jehovah's Witness is treated.
This might require major procedures being carried out in stages.
However, the "right to die" provision did not extend to children unable to give competent consent in life threatening emergencies.
In that situation "all life-saving treatment" should be given, irrespective of the parents wishes, anaesthetists were told.