Transfusion opposition lies in faith

Bobby Ross Jr.

Published: January 12, 2002

WITH a chance to save her baby’s life, how could a mother refuse?

I asked myself that, I must admit, when I read about a boy born almost three months premature at OU Medical Center.

As staff writer Ken Raymond reported recently in The Oklahoman, the boy – weighing 1 1/2 pounds after 25 weeks in the womb – received a potentially life-saving blood transfusion over his parents’ religious objections.

The story said the parents, who have declined interview requests, would not approve the procedure because of their religious beliefs as followers of the Jehovah’s Witnesses faith.

OU Medical Center officials obtained a court order to overrule the parents’ objections.

“We need to do everything we can to treat a child,” hospital spokesman Allen Poston told me. “This child was in grave danger and needed a transfusion.”

So, why do the nation’s estimated 2 million Jehovah’s Witnesses oppose blood transfusions?

They base their position on a literal biblical interpretation that makes “drinking” another person’s blood – as symbolized by a transfusion – a sin.

They point to Scriptures such as Genesis 9:4-5, Leviticus 7:26-27, Acts 15:20 and Acts 21:25.

According to Leviticus 7:27 (New International Version), “If anyone eats blood, that person must be cut off from his people.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses also give medical reasons against transfusions, saying that blood can contain diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis C that aren’t always detected.

But while adults can refuse blood transfusions based on their religious beliefs, the nation’s courts typically have not allowed parents to make that same decision for their children.

In a 1944 Jehovah’s Witnesses case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, “Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves, but it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children.”

More than a half-century later, medical advances such as “bloodless” surgeries have reduced the number of conflicts between Jehovah’s Witnesses’ consciences and the courts.

For a better understanding of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ reasoning, check out the Web site at http://www.watchtower.org.

It contains explanations such as this: “God’s people refused to sustain their lives with blood, not because doing that was unhealthy, but because it was unholy, not because blood was polluted, but because it was precious.”

You won’t necessarily agree with their thinking. But maybe it’ll give you a clearer idea how a mother could refuse a chance to save her baby’s life.

Religion Editor Bobby Ross Jr. can be reached by e-mail at rross@oklahoman.com or by calling 475-3480.

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