Life Saving and Life Threatening Blood Transfusions
June 03, 2007
In all history, there's never been a JW detractor who's used the noun blood transfusion uncoupled to the adjective life-saving. Thus, from time to time we hear of so-and-so, who's health is in jeopardy because he refuses a life saving blood transfusion. Always, the message is the same: what kind of a crackpot religion would persuade its members to decline a life saving blood transfusion?
But we now know that life-saving is the wrong term. The correct term is life-threatening. Bloodless medicine, where available, is usually the treatment of choice. Largely due to Jehovah's Witnesses, scores of medical centers exclusively devoted to bloodless surgery have cropped up in North America and worldwide.
Everybody knows that blood is a foreign tissue, even when types match, and they also know that the body tries to reject foreign tissue. Suppress the immune system, and that creates other problems. Bloodless medicine avoids the issue, and is thus safer.
The latest authority to weigh in is cardiothoracic specialist Bruce Spiess, addressing the Australian and New Zealand College of Anesthetists. (May 28, 2007) He declares blood transfusions have hurt more people than they've helped. Transfusions, he observes, are "almost a religion" because physicians practice them without solid evidence that they help. "Blood transfusion has evolved as a medical therapy and it's never been tested like a major drug," he said. "A drug is tested for safety and efficacy, blood transfusion has never been tested for either one."
Hurt more people than they've helped! That's an incredible statement, given that transfusions are always given to help and frequently given in the belief that they are absolutely essential, life saving!
He cites a Swedish study of 499 Jehovah's Witnesses which shows their survival rate after declining transfusions is higher than that of patients who received them. Such studies are becoming commonplace.
He told the conference: "If you come to surgery, we should ethically treat every patient as if they were a Jehovah's Witness...."
This "almost a religion" description squares with my own experience. Through the years, I've personally known three people who were told point blank, curtly and without the slightest empathy, that they would die without a transfusion. None of them agreed to one. None of them died. Alright, one did die years later, but she was in her 80's. I've never personally known anyone who was told they'd die without a transfusion and who actually did die. Mind you, I don't doubt there have been such ones. I've just never known any, whereas I have known three with the other outcome.
My point is that the life-giving blood transfusion mantra is overstated. Partly this happens because, if a person dies after refusing a transfusion, the added blood that never was is always reported as the cause! It does not matter if the person passed through a veg-a-matic beforehand. If nobody ever died after receiving a life-saving blood transfusion, I'd be more moved. But as observed above, they die in greater numbers than those who refuse.
Old habits die hard, in medicine and most other areas, due to inertia. The words of Max Planke the physicist are applicable:
People think new truths are accepted when the proponents are able to convince the opponents. Instead, the opponents of the truth gradually die, and a new generation comes along who is familiar with the idea.
Over time, and almost entirely born from the organized efforts of Jehovah's Witnesses, bloodless medicine will spread, to the benefit of JWs and non-JWs alike.
Watchtower has produced documentaries on what's being done today and why bloodless is safer. This documentary has won a few "film festival" awards. In other words, it is well done and not schlocky.
I've watched the JW documentary on blood transfution alternatives and am leaning towards agreement. I will with hesitancy say that if blood transfusions can be avoided, they should. But I don't think the complete avoidence of blood transfusions should be the "end-all, end-of-discussion" conclusion in every single case. I'm *not* saying this is your position (unless it is), but if this what the Watchtower is saying, I think that's taking it a bit far--that is, unless they have irrefutable Biblical support :-)
Posted by: Mike.e | June 04, 2007 at 03:02 PM
Jehovah's Witnesses decline blood transfusions for Biblical reasons, not medical. The medical reasons highlighted in my post have only become apparent in recent years. They serve to strengthen our appreciation for the prohibition of blood, but they are not the grounds for that prohibition.
Of course, the Bible's prohibition against consuming blood is not specifically against blood transfusions, which were not devised until many centuries later. But the reason behind the prohibition applies to transfused blood as much as it applies to uses of blood common in biblical times. This is similar to how the invention of a gun does not create a loophole in the commandment "You must not murder."
This position on blood is derived from such scriptures as Gen 9:3-6, Lev 17:11-12, Acts 15:28-29. Is the support "irrefutable?" One can refute anything one is determined to, but the reasoning behind the JW stand can be found in the booklet "How Can Blood Save Your Life," available from Jehovah's Witnesses.
When the very first blood transfusion experiments were being performed, professor of anatomy at the University of Copenhagen, Thomas Bartholin (1616-80), objected on Biblical grounds, not scientific. He wrote "Those who drag in the use of human blood for internal remedies of diseases appear to misuse it and to sin gravely. Cannibals are condemned. Why do we not abhor those who stain their gullet with human blood? Similar is the receiving of alien blood from a cut vein, either through the mouth or by instruments of transfusion. The authors of this operation are held in terror by the divine law, by which the eating of blood is prohibited."
This initial reaction to then new transfusions tells a lot. It quickly faded away when blood transfusions became routine, not because it was wrong, but because transfusion ease seemed to render it a religious relic. The same phenomenon can be seen, to various degrees, with both abortion and embryonic stem cell research.
Posted by: tomsheepandgoats | June 04, 2007 at 11:18 PM
I'm starting to get won over on this point. If I needed a surgery, I would definitely consider a 'bloodless' one if it was available. Does the injunction against the leting of blood mean JW's can't be organ donaters?
Posted by: NateDredge | June 17, 2007 at 12:27 AM
The stand regarding blood affects only blood. There is no prohibition against donating organs. The film "Knocking" offers a case in point.
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | June 17, 2007 at 02:40 AM
Ah, I forgot about that Kidney.
Posted by: NateDredge | June 19, 2007 at 12:29 AM
The whole idea of 'bloodless' surgery is just advertising. Any good surgeon is going to lose as little blood as possible in every case. Using electrocautery is advertised as part of 'bloodless' surgery, but its standard technique in any surgery. The use of a cellsaver is certainly part of this idea, but this also can be used in non JHW patients.
The key element of 'bloodless surgery' is that one has decided up front that they are not going to transfuse blood for any reason. Having made that decision, we are often surprised at the resiliency of the human body in the face of extreme anemia, often past a point where we thought a person would decompensate or even die.
That said, any surgeon can tell you of countless situations where a critically ill patient who was losing a great deal of blood in the operating room or in a traumatic hemorrhage was stabilized by transfusion of blood. The idea that this is somehow unproven is ludicrous, any more than it is unproven that its a good idea to get a laparotomy when you have been shot through the abdomen. There may not be randomized trials, but the empiric data is pretty clear.
Posted by: Nicholas Fogelson, MD | September 04, 2011 at 09:23 PM
Thank you for your feedback.
From a strictly medical point of view, (all spiritual considerations absent) I stated that the 'life-saving' connection to transfusion is overstated. I did not say that it is groundless.
Clearly, at least in the U.S, they're often given unnecessarily, to 'perk a person up a bit' after surgery, for example. If the comments of Dr Spiess and others are correct, while they may accomplish that goal, they also introduce other long-term hazards, such as, to the immune system. Would you agree?
And my wife, as a child, once received a blood transfusion for a nosebleed.
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | September 05, 2011 at 08:22 AM
Was that Nosebleed from her first experimentations with Velocity ,Motion and Kinetic energy involving Two wheels and a frame to attach them to ?
Posted by: TC | September 05, 2011 at 05:39 PM
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | September 05, 2011 at 08:04 PM
"'Primum Non Nocere - First Do No Harm' found itself inside the formation of another documentary. Starting with an entirely different project, the original concept 'Beijing Goes Bloodless', was short-listed for the Co-Production Challenge, at Mipdoc, in 2008.
The movie unfolds as world renowned experts share the latest scientific evidence - debunking claims that blood transfusions always save lives.
Millions of patients are now in danger from previously unknown risks associated with blood transfusions - for example the effects of DNA and chromosome transfers.
What are the long term implications of receiving other peoples' DNA or receiving chromosomes from the opposite sex after a blood transfusion? The film explores the controversial history of blood transfusions and the greatest obstacle facing global healthcare - the reflex rejection of new knowledge, because it contradicts entrenched paradigms.
Video Trailer: http://www.jwbrothers.org/videos/3306/%22first,-do-no-harm-primum-non-nocere%22-blood-transfusion-documentary-teaser
Posted by: Nick | January 17, 2012 at 01:01 PM