When our 3-year-old daughter was mauled by a neighborhood dog, we were distraught, as any parent would be. But, as Jehovah's Witnesses, we faced an even greater fear, beyond the trauma and scars introduced by the dog bites: What if she needed a blood transfusion? Our religious convictions mandated that we refuse. Her very life could be in danger, not from the attack, but from our beliefs.
My mother, an insanely devout woman if ever there was one, immediately called the congregation elders (before even calling me, the child's mother!), who met us at the ER, not so much to comfort us in a time of great distress, but to make sure that our blood transfusion refusal card, a document carried by all Jehovah's Witnesses, was properly signed and recently filled-out. My husband, although very much a believer, was infuriated by this and told the elders that they needed to leave.
Our daughter recovered without us having to refuse this routine medical procedure, and without significant scarring, but it remains in my mind as a seminal moment, the time I had to consider whether I could be like Abraham and offer a child sacrifice to the demanding Jehovah.
It is a decision that many -- hundreds? thousands? -- Jehovah's Witness parents have had to face. Many have not been so lucky as we were. I cannot imagine the pain a parent must feel, to have to decide to refuse needed medical treatment for their child. To have to fight the doctors, the courts, the state and child welfare services (depending on the jurisdiction) -- ultimately to fight to be the enabler of their child's death. And it is not just blood -- the Witnesses have also religiously refused organ transplants.
The Witnesses rejection of blood transfusions is not so simple. Certain blood fractions that occur in other parts of the body are permissible, or not, depending on the dictates of the individual adherent's conscience. You end up with a complicated set of rules about various blood components that is frankly beyond the comprehension of most Witnesses, and that is a contradiction in itself. Whole blood is forbidden, while each of the constituent parts of blood could be allowed according to conscience. How one's conscience could be ok with platelets, but not with white blood cells, is never really explained, yet the individual Witness is expected to make just such a call. Mix all of those components together, and add water, and it is back to the forbidden zone.
To help you to understand all of this, and to fight the state in the courts, there are regional Hospital Liaison Committees composed of local elders with access to Watchtower lawyers. My husband was even briefly involved with an unsanctioned effort to collect a database of hospitals and doctors, recording their level of co-operation with past Witness efforts to refuse blood, so that members could be directed to more Witness-friendly facilities when an emergency arose. The Watchtower magazine spoke of the bravery of Witnesses who would rip out their IV's and be smuggled down back stairwells to flee facilities that sought to force the blood transfusions on them. This, we were taught, was a tremendous show of faith. Even Witnesses who worked in the medical field and would reveal confidential medical information to the elders, so that those who were not faithful to the beliefs of the Witnesses in that regard could be punished, perhaps being expelled and shunned -- they too were portrayed as heroes.
Did I mention that the Witnesses beliefs on this, and many other issues, are subject to pretty much constant change? "New light," they call it, claiming that God is progressively revealing more and better information to them. Oddly, or not, God's new light seems to have a strong correlation to damages having to be paid out in lawsuits.
How would I feel now, as a former Jehovah's Witness, if I had let my daughter die? I would see my choice as the decision of a delusional, hopelessly brainwashed, mother that sacrificed her child's life. I would see myself as a murderer, or at least see myself as being guilty of manslaughter. This is an issue of grave concern to those who have left the Jehovah's Witnesses. Many of us have left family behind in that organization, and we feel like it's our duty to put this back on the table for discussion.
Beliefs change. People change. Death, not so much. Should it be legal to allow people to follow the fickle dictates of a religious sect, to refuse life-saving medical treatment, not just for themselves, but for their minor children?
There was an "Awake" magazine article that came out when my children were still toddlers. It's like a yearbook of the dead -- child sacrifices. The cover photos makes me ill. This is so sad. I am just glad we were not Muslim, and that my daughter has all her womanly parts intact!
Click on the pic for more information on JW's and blood transfusions.
Below is the Druge Retort,"Should Religion Be Allowed Before Age Of Consent." Take a look at the comments this topic generated.
Civilized societies have mandated minimum ages for drinking alcohol, driving cars, smoking, juvenile crime, serving in the military, sexual activity and voting. Should minors who are unable to give their consent to adult activities like voting, be exposed to religious indoctrination without their consent?
Since they are not old enough to give their consent, should religious education (indocrination) not be restricted to adults who are able to better discern the information? Should religious mutilation, circumcision and cliterectomy, also be restricted to consenting adults?
Discussion here: Should Religion Be Allowed Before Age of Consent?