Management of blood loss in Jehovah's Witnesses

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.311.7013.1115 (Published 28 October 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:1115
  1. David Busuttil,
  2. Adrian Copplestone
  1. Registrar Consultant Department of Haematology, Derriford Hospital, Plymouth PL6 8DH

    Recombinant human erythropoietin helps but is expensive

    The Jehovah's Witness religion was founded in the late 1870s by Charles Russell in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There are 5 million Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide and 125000 in the United Kingdom. Members of this sect do not accept blood transfusions, a stand based on passages from the Bible, such as this from Leviticus: (xvii) “As for any man who eats any sort of blood, I shall certainly set my face against the soul that is eating the blood, and I shall indeed cut him off from among his people.” Blood transfusion is interpreted as the eating of blood, and Jehovah's Witnesses believe that all hope of eternal life will be forfeited if transfusion is accepted. Autologous transfusion is also prohibited because they believe that once blood has left the body, it is then unclean. These prohibitions present ethical and clinical challenges to doctors who look after seriously ill or injured Jehovah's Witnesses and prompt a search for alternatives to blood.

    The courts have consistently upheld Jehovah's Witnesses' decisions to refuse transfusions on the grounds that any adult of sound mind has the right to determine what shall be done with his or her own body. Nevertheless, two thirds of European doctors working in intensive care units would give transfusions to an unconscious Jehovah's Witness …

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