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Tuesday, 7 December, 1999, 02:38 GMT
Blood transfusion plan for Jehovah's Witnesses
blood Blood transfusions can present ethical dilemmas

Jehovah's Witnesses who want a blood transfusion should go ahead with the operation but not tell other members of their community, a doctor suggests.

The "don't ask, don't tell" policy is suggested as a way that Jehovah's Witnesses can receive blood, which is against the religious group's doctrine.

If doctors and patients agree to go ahead with a transfusion without telling anyone, life-saving treatment can be received without the person giving up his or her religion, suggests Dr Osamu Muramoto, a regional ethics council member in Portland, USA.

But the British branch of the Jehovah's Witness organisation the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society said by doing so members would be signalling they no longer believed in the group's teachings.

Deciding to take a blood transfusion usually leads to "disfellowship" of the member unless he or she publicly repents.

If they decide to take a blood transfusion they have decided they don't want to be a Jehovah's Witness any more
Paul Gillies, Watchtower
Dr Muramoto says there is a precedent to his proposal in the decision taken by Watchtower in the 1980s to effectively turn a blind eye to oral sex, which contravenes the group's teachings on "immoral sexual acts".

He says the new policy would extend patient confidentiality from doctors to the patients themselves by instilling a culture among Jehovah's Witnesses that they should not be asked about their medical treatment and should not be expected to volunteer information.


"Watchtower could encourage Jehovah's Witnesses to keep their own medical treatment a matter of privacy. Members should be advised that they are not required to disclose medical information to fellow Jehovah's Witnesses and congregational leaders," said Dr Muramoto in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

But Paul Gillies, press officer for Watchtower in the UK, said: "People can take whatever medical treatment they like. If they decide to take a blood transfusion they have decided they don't want to be a Jehovah's Witness any more."

He said it was equivalent to a member of the Temperance Society having an alcoholic drink.

Dr Michael Wilks, the British Medical Association's ethics committee chairman, said, referring to Dr Muramoto's proposal: "I don't see where that gets us. It is ethically a bit messy."

If a doctor and a patient agreed to proceed with a treatment because it was in the patient's best interest, they were establishing a contract between them, said Dr Wilks. Only the patient could then break the confidentiality of that agreement.

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See also:
09 Mar 99 |  Health
Jehovah's Witnesses 'must be allowed to die'
13 May 99 |  Health
Liver transplant for Jehovah's witness

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