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Refusal of potentially life-saving blood transfusions by Jehovah's Witnesses: should doctors explain that not all JWs think it's religiously required?
  1. Raanan Gillon
  1. Imperial College School of Medicine, London University

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    In this issue of the journal “Lee Elder”,1 a pseudonymous dissident Jehovah's Witness (JW), previously an Elder of that faith and still a JW, joins the indefatigable Dr Muramoto25 (the latter is not a JW) in arguing that even by their own religious beliefs based on biblical scriptures JWs are not required to refuse potentially life-saving blood transfusions. Just as the “official” JW hierarchy has accepted that biblical scriptures do not forbid the transfusion or injection of blood fractions so too JW theology logically can and should permit the transfusion of whole blood when this is medically required.

    Few doctors would argue that they should override the adequately autonomous decisions of Jehovah's Witnesses to refuse blood transfusions even if they are likely to die as a result of such transfusions. However, there is a case to be made for doctors asking such patients to reflect on their potentially fatal refusal of blood and for drawing to these patients' attention the reasoning of members of their own faith that justifies acceptance of potentially life-saving blood transfusions. What is that case? Simply that doctors' primary professional duty to try to benefit the health of their patients entails trying to save their patients' lives when and if doing so will benefit their patients' health. Of course this is not an absolute duty overriding all other duties; in particular if patients who are adequately autonomous to do so refuse such life-prolonging treatment doctors must generally accept such refusal, however sadly. This editorial endorses that view in the case of adequately autonomous legally competent JWs. (In another paper in this issue of the journal Professor Shimon Glick argues that ethics committees should be empowered—as they now are in Israel—to override even competent refusals of life-prolonging treatment where the committee judges that …

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