Beliefs That Kill
by Ken Adams (e-mail: [August 18th, 2002]

Earlier this year, a touching drama unfolded in a Calgary hospital. A fourteen year old girl was diagnosed with leukemia. As part of her treatment, her doctor insisted that she receive blood transfusions. Her mother, a Jehovah’s Witness, refused the treatment. Her father, who is also a Jehovah’s Witness, agreed to the treatment.

“Since no Jehovah’s Witness is allowed to question church doctrines, for fear of shunning, [the Associated Jehovah’s Witnesses for Reform on Blood] must operate underground.”

To settle the issue, the matter was rushed to an Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench judge to be settled. The judge ordered that the transfusions be carried out, since the girl was under age and not considered mature enough to make this life and death decision. The court felt that her life should be preserved until she is a legal adult, at which time she can make her own choice.

The drama did not end at this point. In order to protect their legal interests, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society flew in their corporate lawyer from Georgetown, Ontario to challenge the court decision. This hired gun called the forced blood transfusion an “assault” and insisted on an appeal.

As a lifelong Jehovah’s Witness, this story rips me apart for several reasons.

First of all, the Jehovah’s Witness stand on blood is logically, ethically, and theologically shaky. That, however, is not the issue. Every person has the right to choose his or her own beliefs. However, this doctrine is in a state of constant flux. Over the past fifty years, this policy has alternately applied to blood fractions, vaccinations, and organ transplants. Most of these previously banned procedures are now allowed. Some persons are speculating that it is only a matter of time until the entire blood doctrine is abandoned by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Secondly, and most importantly, not all Jehovah’s Witnesses agree with the blood doctrine, but are coerced into following it. Every year, every Jehovah’s Witness is issued a “No Blood Transfusion” identification card. This card is distributed to every baptized Witness, and the completion of the card is overseen and witnessed by the local elders. Failure to sign and retain this card is an indication of disloyalty. Failure to uphold the doctrine, even in the face of death, is an indication that one is no longer a Jehovah’s Witness, and is subject to every sanction that the group can muster.

In addition, there is an increasingly vocal group of dissidents within the organization. Since no Jehovah’s Witness is allowed to question church doctrines, for fear of shunning, this group must operate underground. It is called the Associated Jehovah’s Witnesses for Reform on Blood (or AJWRB), and can be found thriving on the internet.

This group seeks to educate individual Jehovah’s Witnesses on their rights and choices, as well as to pressure the organization to make the blood issue one of individual conscience. You see, although the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses claims to allow freedom of conscience, this is not true. Individual members must conform to church doctrines, with no exceptions.

In this case, the girl’s life is being saved by her father, a group of medical professionals, and a judge. Many others do not have this kind of support.

Over the years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have fought legal battles to ensure their freedom of speech and freedom of religion. It is truly a shame (and in my mind, a crime) that a group that has done so much to protect freedom of religion has denied this freedom to their own members.

Resources and Avenues for Further Study

  • CANOE: Court to Fast-Track Blood Transfusion Case
  • Watchtower Information Service: Father Shunned by Family for Defying Faith to Save Child
  • CBC News: Blood Transfusion Case Delayed Until Fall, Teen Wants Quick Decision From Supreme Court on Transfusions
  • FreeMinds: Watchers of The Watchtower World
  • Google Directory: Society: Religion and Spirituality: Opposing Views: Christianity: Jehovah's Witnesses

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