There are controversial issues concerning blood transfusions for members of religions organizations, like Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW). According to McInroy, “Jehovah's Witnesses have a cultural and religious objection to blood donation and transfusion” (270). This apparently stemmed from some biblical passages that allegedly emphasize that blood from other sources should be avoided . However, some practitioners of JW, especially contemporary devotees, were noted to be ambivalent of complete support and was acknowledged that “it must not be assumed that all Jehovah s Witnesses agree with the blood policy and if given privacy, confidentiality and the exclusion of any third party, some will agree to blood-based treatments” . In this regard, the aim of the current discourse is to respond to the question: In Canada, should a member of a religious group have the right to refuse a blood transfusion on behalf of his or her child? The response would be provided after analyzing the arguments presented by Gillion, in his article entitled “Refusal of potentially life-saving blood transfusions by Jehovah’s Witnesses: should doctors explain that not all JWs think it’s religiously required?” published in the Journal of Medical Ethics; and the article written by McInroy entitled “Blood transfusion and Jehovah's Witnesses: the legal and ethical issues” published in the British Journal of Nursing.
Arguments Opposing Blood Transfusions
The followers and patronizers of JW openly oppose blood transfusions based on the
religious organizations’ teachings and beliefs, which were derived in specifically identified passages . As disclosed, “three Biblical passages allegedly forbidding transfusion:
Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 17:11–14, and Acts 15:20,29. The punishment for accepting blood products is loss of eternal life and on earth, a type of excommunication” . To these believers, death was accepted as the most natural recourse; rather than subjecting themselves to agree on blood transfusions, should these be medically prescribed; because the state of being excommunicated and apparently shamed by the faith is more intense and painful, than death itself. Especially for parents, it was also indicated that as guardians of their children’s welfare, there have been several incidences where prescribed blood transfusions were viciously opposed should the children be requiring these transfusions, due to religious beliefs. As emphasized by Woolley, “when parental refusal is based on religious beliefs, the court can justify compulsory medical treatment based on the avoidance of physical harm” (215). The problem becomes evident when the state, through the legal court, intervenes.
Arguments Supporting Blood Transfusions
Some believers of JW have signified the opposite stance by indicating that “even by their own religious beliefs based on biblical scriptures JWs are not required to refuse potentially life-saving blood transfusions” . The reasons for the disparate view stem from the acknowledgement that blood transfusions do not actually violate abiding by the defined scriptures. As emphasized, “blood transfusion has nothing to do with “eating” or “ingestion” of blood (which is what the relevant scriptures forbid)” . Likewise, health care organizations are bound by standards of privacy and confidentiality. As such, any information on the procedure, intervention, or medical administration performed for a particular patient should not be disclosed to any one, outside of the patient’s nuclear family. Therefore, as above noted, some patients affiliated with JW, have agreed to the prescribed blood transfusions with stipulated adherence to the standards of privacy, confidentiality, and non-disclosure to third parties . These arguments clearly indicate that when patronizers of JWs are aptly persuaded to consider other points of views, they could be swayed into understanding that by agreeing to the prescribed blood transfusion, they are not violating any religious doctrine. Likewise, their approval is protected under the privacy and confidentiality rule strictly adhered to by the medical profession.
When Courts Preside
Regardless of parents’ support or opposition for the prescribed blood transfusion, some countries have established laws regarding the rights of children and adolescents to abide by their parents’ decision, or to recede their rights to the proper legal forum. According to Woolley, “courts throughout the western world recognise that parents have rights but additionally recognise that these rights are not absolute and exist only to promote the welfare of children” (715). In Canada, it was specifically indicated that when conflicts occur regarding parents’ refusal for blood transfusion in behalf of a child, the interests of the child prevails. This means that if the life of the child is endangered by the refusal, the court could intercede in favor of providing the necessary treatment that would definitely save the life of the child.
Accordingly, there were some controversies in terms of addressing the interests of adolescents. Woolley has reported that “Canadian cases involving adolescent JWs fall into two
categories: those supporting the rights of adolescents to refuse medical treatment, and those refuting the suggestion that adolescents are mature enough to make life or death decisions” (717). However, the bottom line is actually that the children’s opinions are to be heard and duly considered; but still, “the court can override the decisions of both children and their parents” . From this confirmation, it is apparent that when lives of the children are at stake, and parents continue to refuse blood transfusions due to religious beliefs, the courts intervene in the process to save the lives of the children, who would have been denied with the procedure according to the adherence of parents to their religious beliefs, had the court not intervened.
The health care institutions’ dilemma in addressing religious affiliations’ practices and beliefs are paramount, especially when the religious belief runs counter to the theory of beneficence. All things taken into perspective, there are standards of ethics noted in each medical practitioners’ profession, as well as adherence to human rights regulations that must be explicitly observed . In responding to the question of whether a member of a religious group, particularly the JW, should have the right to refuse a blood transfusion on behalf of his or her child or not; the discourse stipulated arguments that rationalized opposition to blood transfusion, as well as arguments that supported it. Likewise, the legal regulations that intervene should there continue to exist conflict or chaos in coming up with a particular decision were presented through Woolley’s discourse. In the end, it could be deduced that a member of the JWs, who resides in Canada, does not have the right to refuse a blood transfusion on behalf of his or her child, especially when the transfusion is prescribed to save the child’s life.
Gillon, R. "Refusal of potentially life-saving blood transfusions by Jehovah’s Witnesses: should doctors explain that not all JWs think it’s religiously required?" Journal of Medical Ethics (2000): Vol. 26, 299–301.Print.
McInroy, Ally. "Blood transfusion and Jehovah's Witnesses: the iegai and ethicai issues." British Journal of Nursing (2005): Vol. 14, No. 5, 270-274. Print.
Woolley, S. "Children of Jehovah’s Witnesses and adolescent Jehovah’s Witnesses: what are their rights?" 2005. Archives of Disease in Childhood. 9 April 2013