By: Valerie D. Centeno Cruz
“I was very scared. It was an open heart surgery and my chances of complications during surgery were greater because I do not accept blood transfusions. On top of that, the doctor attacked my religious beliefs in his attempt to change my decision,” said Diana Perez (real name withheld), a devoted Jehovah’s Witness.
Diana went to get a routine heart test done at a hospital in Mayaguez. After the test, she was admitted into the hospital because her heart’s aorta, the biggest artery, was ninety percent blocked. A request for her transfer to a hospital in San Juan was issued immediately.
During her wait to be transferred, Diana’s husband contacted the Jehovah’s Witnesses Hospital Liaison Committee for orientation. According to the Watchtower Library, a Jehovah’s Witness Database, the committee was created to “support the Witnesses in their refusal to receive blood, to clear away misunderstandings on the part of doctors and hospitals, and to create a more cooperative spirit between medical institutions and Witness patients”.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have a strong belief against blood transfusions. They believe that any consumption of blood is condemned by God. The foundation for their beliefs is grounded in biblical passages and medical research. As individuals, their beliefs should be respected.
The biblical foundation for these beliefs comes from the Bible’s books Genesis, Leviticus and Acts.
Genesis 9:3-4, of the Bible, states: “Every moving animal that is alive may serve as food for YOU. As in the case of green vegetation, I do give it all to YOU. Only flesh with its soul—its blood—YOU must not eat.”
A section of Leviticus 17:14 reads: “YOU must not eat the blood of any sort of flesh, because the soul of every sort of flesh is its blood. Anyone eating it will be cut off.”
Another passage that supports their beliefs is Acts 15:29, which states: “keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication. If YOU carefully keep yourselves from these things, YOU will prosper.”
In 1945 the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses decided, through their interpretations of these passages, that “blood transfusion was an unscriptural use of blood”. Henceforth they have preached this belief to all of the other Jehovah’s Witnesses.
They also believe that recovery after a surgery is faster and more efficient without the use of blood transfusions. According to the Watchtower Library, many doctors and scientific researchers have proven that blood transfusions can suppress the immune system and expose patients to bacteria and infections.
In Diana’s case, the Hospital Liaison Committee provided her with little information on which hospitals and doctors were “Witness friendly” and practiced the alternate methods that Witnesses’ prefer. “I didn’t know any better, so I agreed to be transferred to the Pavia Hospital in Santurce,” said Diana. Pavia Hospital is a well respected hospital in the field of heart treatments, but, according to what the committee told them later on, the hospital is not accustomed to treating Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Jehovah’s Witnesses sign a legal document with a lawyer that prohibits the hospital and family members from making any decisions regarding blood transfusions. “The affidavit declares that the person denies blood transfusions, autologous (from the same person) or homologous (from a donor), or anything that derivates from it. It also informs the reader of the Bible passages that the decision is based on,” said Manuel Quintana (real name withheld), a Jehovah’s Witness lawyer.
“The document also states that the person does accept bloodless alternatives like Dextran, Saline or Ringer’s Solution and Hetastarch,” said Manuel. These alternatives are used as dilutors of blood in order to increase its volume but are not to be used as replacements for it.
Another alternative used is the Cell Saver machine. According to Haemonetics, a global company that markets automated blood processing systems, the Cell Saver is used to “collect, wash, and re-infuse a patient’s blood in the operating room and cardiac care unit.”
“The affidavit also releases the doctors and hospitals from responsibility on the consequences that might arise because of the patient’s decision,” said Manuel.
Diana’s assigned heart surgeon welcomed her at Pavia Hospital and sat down to discuss her medical record with her and her family. When he started discussing her position about denying blood transfusions because of her religion, he reacted negatively.
“Immediately after the conversation, I felt destroyed. I was going through one of the hardest moments of my life and this doctor was testing my faith. He insulted my religion and told me that our experts, when it comes to blood, didn’t know what they were talking about,” said Diana.
“This ordeal could’ve been avoided if the Hospital Liaison Committee had provided them with a better orientation on how to deal with these emergencies,” said Ivette Torres Perez (real name withheld), Diana’s youngest daughter.
“When the time for surgery came I held on to my faith and put myself in the hands of God,” said Diana.
To her and her family’s relief, everything turned out well. The doctor used the alternate methods she asked for and her blood level remained normal. Her recovery went according to the expected.
“After I regained consciousness, the doctor visited me. He grabbed my hands and told me: ‘From now on, Mrs. Diana, I will use the methods I used with you’,” said Diana.