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Jehovah’s Witnesses and Blood Transfusions

July 5th, 2024

Christian doctors have been given a green light to refuse service to trans patients in the state of North Dakota.
When religious beliefs conflict with medical science, courts may need to step in. Blood transfusions for Jehovah’s Witnesses are one example.

Although religious beliefs may cause conflicts in many aspects of life, medical procedures can prove especially problematic. If a religious belief prevents a patient from accessing care, doctors must ask themselves important questions about their own professional oaths. Does a patient’s autonomy override the doctor’s duty to provide effective care? When is a patient allowed to refuse treatment on the basis of their religion? Of course, the debate can also go in the opposite direction. A doctor might object to providing certain treatment based on their own religious belief – and this conflict of biomedical ethics can be even more difficult to resolve. One of the most puzzling examples involves the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their opposition to blood transfusions. 

Why Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Refuse Blood Transfusions?

The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that accepting a blood transfusion prevents them from reaching Eternal Salvation. If a member accepts a transfusion and this is discovered by the rest of the group, they may be shunned and permanently ostracized. 

The Jehovah’s Witnesses often quote specific religious texts when explaining this refusal. These include Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 17:10, and Acts 15:29. The group claims that these texts prevent them from taking blood into their systems – in any way. Specifically, they do not make any distinction between drinking blood and accepting a blood transfusion. 

How Does This Affect Constitutional Law?

Court-ordered blood transfusions for Jehovah’s Witnesses have been deemed unconstitutional by the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany. The German court also ruled that these transfusions do not constitute “batteries.” However, this issue is far from settled. Other jurisdictions, most notably Canada and the United Kingdom, have taken very different stances. 

 Bloodless Transfusions: A Potential Solution?

In 2023, A Jehovah’s Witness received the first “bloodless heart transplant.” This completely changed the discussion, as it suddenly seemed like medical technology was capable of catering to this challenging biomedical issue. 

However, it was not an easy procedure – and many doctors would outright refuse to even attempt this. Indeed, the woman who received this transplant was forced to travel from Austin to Chicago – as her local doctors likely refused to carry out the procedure for liability reasons. 

That being said, the procedure could become easier with time. After all, pacemakers were once considered highly risky, and now they are relatively routine. In addition, bloodless procedures are becoming more common across many areas. In another recent case, a patient received a bloodless mitral heart valve replacement. The patient is also a Jehovah’s Witness. 

Technology Can Solve Religious Ethical Issues

If nothing else, these developments highlight the power of technology to overcome even the most challenging biomedical and religious issues. When the Bible was written, people couldn’t possibly imagine that the text could potentially cause people to lose access to life-saving treatments. However, people at that time could not imagine the incredible innovation that has occurred in the medical field. 

We can only hope that the power of technology continues to give people numerous options, allowing access to top-quality treatment without violating their religious freedoms. 

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