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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 November 2007, 16:08 GMT
Refusing blood 'source of regret'
Rachel Underhill
Ms Underhill has left the Jehovah's Witnesses
When Rachel Underhill heard news of the death of 22-year-old Jehovah's Witness Emma Gough last month after refusing a blood transfusion, it brought back memories of her own traumatic choice eight years ago.

Like Ms Gough, Ms Underhill had said "no" to receiving blood while giving birth to twins because of rules on transfusions laid down by their religion.

Having been brought up as a Jehovah's Witness, Ms Underhill, now 32, from Peacehaven, near Brighton, says she believed she had no choice but to sign a form refusing blood treatment which had been handed to her by religious elders.

She says she feared being "disfellowshipped", or being rejected by the religion if she declined to sign.

Paperwork

"The doctors went through my notes and realised I was a Jehovah's Witness. The Jehovah's Witness hospital liaison committee came up with a pile of paperwork for me to sign so that I didn't have blood."

All I can say is that if there is a scenario where welfare of dependant children is involved, doctors should have the power to overturn the decision
Rachel Underhill
Former Jehovah's Witness

But when giving birth to her twin girls by emergency Caesarean section - prematurely at 30 weeks - Ms Underhill began to understand the reality of her choice.

She remembers one concerned anaesthetist warning her that she was risking her own life as well as the future of her children.

"She said, 'Do you realise you are going to die and your children are going to be motherless?'"

Although the twins had to be put in a special care baby unit for six weeks, Ms Underhill did not need any extra blood. Instead, she received iron injections and ate beetroot to restore her haemoglobin levels.

'Unhappy marriage'

But, as time went on, Ms Underhill began to feel uncomfortable with some of the teachings of her religion.

Three years after giving birth, she says she instigated her own "disfellowshipping" by creating an imaginary adulterous affair. This not only allowed her to leave the religion, but also what she describes as her "unhappy marriage".

Many believe blood equals life and no blood equals death - it is not that simple
Jehovah's Witnesses spokesman

Now a successful businesswoman, Ms Underhill has set up a website to help others thinking of leaving the faith. And she has no regrets about the decision she made.

When her daughter became ill earlier this year, she was "overjoyed" to sign consent forms to allow her to receive blood if needed.

Looking back on her own experiences, she now wants doctors to be able to override the wishes of all patients and says transfusions should never carry "fear of censure".

"After this sad case of Emma, all I can say is that if there is a scenario where the welfare of dependant children is involved, doctors should have the power to overturn the decision."

But the Jehovah's Witnesses in Britain deny coercion is used to prevent patients having blood transfusions, saying such a suggestion is "repugnant" to their faith.

Blood
Jehovah's Witnesses believe they should abstain from blood

"This is something we would never support," spokesman Stephen Papps says.

He says that the religion's stance on blood is something everyone is aware of when they join and that to be a Jehovah's Witness it is essential to follow the Bible's teachings.

"We are not anti-medicine. When it comes to medical choices we go through the same process as anyone else - but we take the Bible seriously."

He adds: "Many believe blood equals life and no blood equals death - it is not that simple. Abstaining from blood often cuts out the chance of other diseases and other health outcomes."

SEE ALSO
Mother dies after refusing blood
05 Nov 07 |  Shropshire
The right to die for Jehovah
05 Nov 07 |  Health
History of the Jehovah's Witnesses
12 Jul 02 |  Panorama

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