Jehovah’s Witnesses Reject Blood Transfusions, but Doctors Are Finding New Ways to Save Their Lives August 12, 2015

Jehovah’s Witnesses Reject Blood Transfusions, but Doctors Are Finding New Ways to Save Their Lives

There’s a saying that creativity comes from limits, not freedom. When you’re confined to work within certain parameters, and the easiest options aren’t available, you really have to dig deep to solve your problems.

It’s something doctors have had to grapple with when working with Jehovah’s Witnesses. The religion famously prohibits blood transfusions, and any Witness who accepts it will essentially be shunned for life. Children have died as a result of their parents not allowing a transfusion to take place.

If you’re a doctor, you have two options in a situation like that: Use the legal system to override the parents’ wishes… or find a way to work around the blood transfusion.

The New Yorker‘s Amanda Schaffer explores how the restraint has actually led to some surprising and promising discoveries in medicine:

… 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.

The whole story is fascinating — and it’s only part one of a three-part series looking at this practice.

None of this is to say that the faith-based ban on transfusions makes any logical sense. Still, it’s pretty amazing to see a religion hurt its own followers, only to have science swoop in to fix the problem.

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