As if offering a pinch of incense to the gods, the article begins: "Blood transfusions have saved millions of lives." But doesn't the very next phrase almost douse the flame?
"yet stored red cells may be less effective than hoped for because they can quickly lose much of their ability to deliver oxygen."
They can? They do? If so, blood transfusions haven't saved as many lives as they are credited with, perhaps not any more than simple saline solution or any other fluid that aims only to replace lost volume. Jehovah's Witnesses have no objection to the latter. They do, however, for religious reasons, decline the former. They are well known for refusing blood transfusions.
If I had a nickel for every news article or web post lambasting us for our transfusion stand....some going so far as to call it tantamount to murder....I could buy myself a Maserati. And another, even fancier car for my wife, Mrs. Sheepandgoats. Blood substitutes are no good, they scream at us, because only the real thing, only real packed red cells, delivers the life-saving oxygen to the body. Yet according to this article, they don't!
The problem is that transfused blood needs nitric oxide to keep the blood vessels open, otherwise, the carried oxygen never reaches the tissues. But nitric oxide begins to break down within three hours of storage, and donated blood is presently stored up to 42 days. To be sure, researchers think they can remedy the problem. But that does nothing to improve the effectiveness of blood transfusions already given, each one of which was hailed as "life-saving," yet few of them actually qualifying as such, at least not any more so than saline solution, which offers no danger of rejection. We all know that the body spots foreign tissue in an instant, and tries hard to get rid of it.
Oddly, there are two versions of this AP story by Randolph E Schmid. One leads with the butt-kissing "blood transfusions have saved millions of lives" and one doesn't. I suspect Mr. Schmid, who is a science writer, did not include it. But somewhere along the line, some pious editor unable to tolerate the blood transfusion idol besmirched, added the phrase. Versions that have the phrase are here, here, and here. Versions that do not are here, here, and here. (I've included so many because some sources don't archive their stories very long....I hope some of them survive.)
All this reminds me of Bruce Spiess, addressing the Australian and New Zealand College of Anesthetists a few months ago. 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."
Meanwhile, Jehovah's Witnesses steadfastly refuse blood transfusions (for religious reasons, not medical) and have created hundreds of Hospital Liaison Committees composed of members who interact with local hospitals and doctors. As a result, some in the medical field have pioneered bloodless techniques. By eliminating the risk of foreign tissue, human error, and blood-borne diseases, these new techniques offer a safety margin that conventional blood transfusions do not. The film Knocking states there are over 140 medical centers in North America that offer some form of bloodless surgical techniques. Might the day come, or is it even here already, when the number of lives saved through such medicine will outnumber those lost by a few members of a relatively tiny religious group that stuck to its principles amidst much opposition?
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