ARTICLE - 25 April 2013 - New York Times - God and Doctor (Jehovah's Witnesses)

by jwleaks 13 Replies latest watchtower medical

  • jwleaks


    God and Doctor

    By MIKKAEL A. SEKERES, M.D. APRIL 25, 2013


    When he came to the hospital, he did not look well.

    You might think that everyone with a recent leukemia diagnosis appears ill, but that isn’t true. Some go to their primary care doctor with vague complaints of feeling tired or of having a cold, and a few hours after having their blood drawn are stunned to receive a phone call that they must get to the hospital immediately. Some get “stuck” in the Kübler-Ross stage of denial, refusing to believe they have leukemia even after they’ve received chemotherapy for it, or in the bargaining stage, negotiating for just one more bone marrow biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.

    Others look like my new patient.

    “His hemoglobin is 2.7,” my leukemia fellow told me. A normal hemoglobin for a man should be closer to 15. “When we drew his blood, it came out almost clear.”

    “How many bags of blood are you going to give him?” I asked.

    She hesitated. “He’s refusing any blood product transfusions. He’s a Jehovah’s Witness.”

    The Jehovah’s Witnesses are a religious group that believes, among other things, that only a minority of people reach heaven. They also believe that it is wrong to receive the tissue of another human being, and that doing so violates God’s law, even if potentially lifesaving.

    This presented quite an ethical quandary. To treat our patient’s cancer adequately, we would need to give him chemotherapy at doses high enough to obliterate his entire bone marrow, at least for a while. During this time, he would not be able to manufacture his own red blood cells or platelets, so we would have to support him with transfusions — sometimes as frequently as daily. Supportive measures like blood product transfusions and antibiotics have led to a marked drop in mortality from the actual leukemia treatment over the past half century, to less than 5 percent. Without such supportive measures, death is almost guaranteed. Without chemotherapy, though, death is certain, at the hands of the leukemia itself.

    My fellow and I walked into our patient’s room to talk with him. He was lying in bed and surrounded by his relatives, who were sitting in chairs or on his bed. He smiled weakly at us, pale but handsome. We introduced ourselves to everyone and then started talking about how to treat his leukemia.

    “So, you understand that the therapy we recommend has the potential to cure you, but it is unlikely you’ll be able to survive the chemotherapy without receiving blood transfusions?” I summarized.

    “I understand,” he said.

    “But if we don’t treat your leukemia, you will die from it.” I looked him in the eyes, at the crow’s-feet that told me he had laughed a lot of times in his life, and down to his hands, holding those of his niece, sitting by his side. Tears were streaming down her cheeks.

    “I know.”

    “I heard that you’re a Jehovah’s Witness. I come from a different background – I’m Jewish.”

    “Well, nobody’s perfect!” his brother piped up. Everyone laughed, easing the tension in the room.

    “I have different beliefs from you, so I can’t say I totally understand where you’re coming from, but I respect your faith, and we’ll follow your lead on what you want to do,” I told the patient. “You’re the boss.”

    “No, he’s the boss,” he said, pointing toward the ceiling, and beyond. Others in the room nodded in agreement.

    He declined transfusions, but he did want to receive chemotherapy, so we compromised on a lower-dose treatment, and minimized our lab draws to one per week, to preserve what blood he had. After two weeks his hemoglobin dropped to 2.1; after three weeks, it fell to 1.8. One month into his hospitalization, he became too dizzy to stand, and his heart, starved for the oxygen his missing red blood cells would have carried, just stopped beating. He had cardiac arrest and died.

    The staff on the leukemia floor took his death hard, all plagued by the same question: Had we done enough for him?

    We enter our chosen profession to kill that malignant golem, leukemia. But our patient approached his leukemia focusing more on eternity than his time on earth. While many felt his belief had tied our hands so that we couldn’t treat his leukemia optimally, ultimately our responsibility must be to our patient’s goals more than to our own: in this case, his relationship to God, and his desire to reach heaven. I hope he made it.

    Mikkael Sekeres, M.D.

    Dr. Mikkael Sekeres is director of the leukemia program at the Cleveland Clinic.

  • Phizzy

    This is a question to the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses who well know their blood doctrine is wrong:

    When will the killing stop ?

  • Scully


  • Simon
    While many felt his belief had tied our hands so that we couldn’t treat his leukemia optimally, ultimately our responsibility must be to our patient’s goals more than to our own.

    I believe it should be treated like any other attempted suicide and prevented, or their decisions taken away from them.

    What right do people have to consume medical resources and inflict emotional harm on others like this?

    The choice should be "one of these viable treatments, or none at all". Make them chose death and sign a waver saying they chose to throw away the life they have to honor the symbol used to represent life in a book of myths and legends.

  • cofty

    Very sad.

    I have different beliefs from you, so I can’t say I totally understand where you’re coming from, but I respect your faith

    There is no virtue in respecting delusional beliefs.

  • amos77

    Having stood by a bedside and watch one of our JW patient's die was very difficult for me as an ex-JW. I have now been on both sides. On two occasions with my father standing firm, surrounded by "support elders" or was that the minders, and a newborn baby with reasonably severe spina bifida who was going to need multiple surgeries including court ordered blood, I supported my JW sister, to allow that baby to die. Since coming out of JW have had considerble guilt. But we regularly get patients in ED "refusing" all sorts of treatment.

    The obese patient who has to have stents for the second/third time, because of his lifestyle, is that not costing the nation as well ? Millions use up medical resources as a result of alcohol, obesity, cigarettes and sexual lifestyle. One specialist I knew said his tactic with JWs was keep away all family members and particuarly elders, and left to their own, provided it could be kept hidden, more than half of his patients accepted blood. There was an instance where Bethel tried to arrange for a sympathetic lawyer to attend a speicalist surgeon consulation with a JW woman. The lawyer was to provide the moral support to ensure this lady insisted on no blood!. How is this their own conscience? If there was no DF as a result of blood transfusion, and just a suggestion or just their conscience, then possibly many more would have it. Sad, sad situation.

  • Band on the Run
    Band on the Run

    Does anyone who researches the blood policy know if doctors can refuse to treat a JW patient? I suspect not b/c of religious discrimination. Still, they negatively impact your practice statistics. Dealing with people who want to die must be a mental drainer. Yet I appreciate when doctors acknowledge my autonomy. Too many of them want to impose their values on me. They are trained to fight.

    I know that in the NY/NJ area many surgeons refuse to treat Witnesses. My uncle had major heart surgery and ended up going to a low-rated hopsital. Only one teaching hosptial in the area and the Cooley or DeBakey group in Texas do surgery. Elective surgery is different from emergency surgery. I offered to negotiate as a lawyer with the backing of a major law firm and take my aunt and uncle to Texas. I cried when I heard the hosptial and surgeon they chose. Fortunately, my uncle survived. It was harrowing for family members.

    I respect their autonomy but if I were a physician, I would refuse to treat them if I could refuse. Maybe it is easier for outsiders to respect their views.


  • Band on the Run
    Band on the Run

    If blood is imposed on them, the society is tyrannical. Personal autnomy is a basic English common law right. How do other Western democracies deal with this scenario? Rome could have said that Christian martyrs were suciidal. Heck, if you read Jesus' trial before Pilate, he begs for death in many ways. Pilate was recalled to Rome for excessive cruelty in the Roman world.

    My concern is for children or teenagers. There was a legal case involving a 14 year old boy. An American judge let him choose death. Fourteen is fourteen. What a final decision for a fourteen yeaer old. The boy's brain is not even fully developed. The ability to make life decisions has not kicked in yet. The Witness underground for smuggling children away from authorities infuriates me.

    An adult decision is one thing. Parents should never make the choice for their children.

  • Marvin Shilmer
    Marvin Shilmer


    Symbols of Death

    In the 12-year period of 1933-45 Adolf Hitler killed 2,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    In the 1-year of 2011 Watchtower’s blood doctrine killed more than 2,000 of Jehovah’s Witnesses.[1]

    When will secular society do something about this slaughter? When?

    Marvin Shilmer



    1. See: Symbols of death! available at:

  • designs

    When my Father died from a lack of blood at a hospital set up to treat JWs, in Norwalk Ca., there was no blood in the hospital, nada, they could not have treated him properly if they had wanted to. It was criminal medical negligence.

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