Tuesday, September 8, 2015

How Jehovah’s Witnesses Are Changing Medicine - The New Yorker

This is one of those mixed feelings type articles.  On one hand, it is excellent "news" that science has advanced enough to accommodate the bizarre beliefs and restrictions of the Jehovah's Witnesses and we will all benefit from said advances.  On the other, why should we?  Because of the children.  And, “But we had to remind ourselves we were respecting his wishes. Patients have the right to determine their care.”

The whole story is an interesting read - and it’s only part one of a three-part series looking at this practice.  Faith-based ban on transfusions do not make any logical sense. But, it’s pretty amazing to see a religion that hurts its own sheeple followers, only to have science swoop in to fix the problem.
In the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul urges congregants to abstain “from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled, and from sexual immorality.” Jehovah’s Witnesses, apparently alone among Christian groups, believe this verse, along with others, prohibits them from accepting blood transfusions, no matter how dire the circumstance. As Joan Ortiz, a Witness in her sixties, recently told me, it’s as much a sin to take a blood transfusion as to have an extramarital affair. In this interpretation of Scripture, those who comply will prosper and enjoy good health. Those who don’t can be cut off from their people and denied resurrection. “Everything about us is carried in our blood,” said Ortiz. “Our personality, our sicknesses, all the good things about us. It’s who we are. It’s our soul.” It should not be mixed, even if life depends on it.

Though Witnesses accept virtually all other medical interventions, the stricture against transfusion can affect their care. Patients may need donor blood when they lose their own blood rapidly, as a result of a car crash or surgery, or when they develop severe anemia—for instance, during cancer treatment. In the past several decades, specialty programs in “bloodless medicine” that cater to Jehovah’s Witnesses have grown up at dozens of hospitals.

Surprisingly, doctors’ experience in these programs has often led them to order blood far less frequently for other patients, as well. Some bloodless medicine experts have also helped lead a national movement calling for more sparing use of transfusion. Donor blood comes with risks for all patients, including the potential for immune reactions and infections. And clinical trials have shown that, for a broad range of conditions, restrictive transfusion practices do not lead to worse outcomes than liberal ones. In recent years, the American Medical Association has listed transfusion as among the most overused therapies in medicine.
Still, bloodless medicine requires more than surgical skill, as Steinberger himself also stressed. It rests on a myriad of small precautions and coördinated, blood-saving techniques that begin well in advance of surgery. When Ortiz had pre-operative testing done in Florida, on the advice of a nurse who was familiar with Witnesses, she insisted that the phlebotomist use pediatric tubes and draw the minimum amount possible.

How Jehovah’s Witnesses Are Changing Medicine - The New Yorker

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