On Wednesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a statement regarding an experimental treatment for COVID-19. It involved “convalescent plasma” collected from people who have recovered from the disease. The FDA said that, while the treatment had not been approved (since experimental data was virtually non-existent), there were a few places where scientists or doctors could use it, including in patients with “serious or immediately life-threatening COVID-19 infections.” The thinking is that there are antibodies present in the plasma of recovered patients that could help current patients fight the virus.
The problem is that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are reacting to this statement by saying it would violate the religion’s rules to accept this treatment.
JWs have famously refused blood transfusions since 1945 even when they’re needed to save their own lives.
The religion’s leaders are now saying plasma is included in that ban. The watchdog site JWsurvey obtained a “leaked memo from a Jehovah’s Witness Circuit Overseer” sent to local leaders:
The new directive from a Jehovah’s Witness representatives says:
“The Blood Issue: There’s talk about the FDA allowing doctors to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients with “convalescent plasma therapy”. It would be wise to advise the publishers that, it’s understood that this is giving the patient the whole plasma of the person who has developed the antibodies which would be unacceptable for a Jehovah’s Witness.”
“However if the antibodies were extracted from the plasma (fractions/immunoglobulins) and then given to the patient, it would be a conscience matter for a Jehovah’s Witness. Some doctors may view plasma as a fraction. Therefore the publisher may need to explain their personal decision not to accept any of the blood’s 4 main components, one of them being plasma.…
Witness leaders appear concerned that amidst the pandemic dimensions of the Coronavirus, some critically ill church members may be tempted to accept plasma therapy treatment.
The directions say that a “fraction” of the plasma may be acceptable to use… but as far as the FDA is concerned, such slicing and dicing of the plasma to extract just the important stuff isn’t an option yet. So this method is just off-limits for practicing Witnesses. (Writes Mark O’Donnell at JWsurvey, “For Jehovah’s Witnesses, the difference between life and death might just be a centrifuge.”)
O’Donnell also notes the irony that believers may be allowed to accept plasma fractions but they are still completely forbidden from donating any blood to help others.
Leave it to religious leaders to see a potential response to COVID-19, only to write it off because it might violate a silly rule they made up decades ago. It’s not just a random rule people can reject, either. If you are a practicing JW who accepts blood or plasma, you will be disassociated — shunned — and unable to have contact with your own family.
Of all the ways we’ve seen religious leaders make the COVID-19 problem worse, it’s appalling that Jehovah’s Witnesses would rather let members die that receive an experimental treatment because it involves blood plasma.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Sacha for the link)