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.