Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Bloody Fools

Vlad: off sick when the class studied Leviticus

Jehovah's Witnesses are back in the news again, for the only reason that they ever seem to be in the news.

The Manitoba Appeals Court--a fine body of persons:

The Appeal Court judges acknowledged the transfusions infringe on the teen's right to religious freedom, but are justified because of the sanctity of life and duty to protect children.

Translation: believe in whatever nonsense you want, just don't expect it to be put into practice viz your kids when it counts.

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In the higher profile B.C. sextuplet case, the experts weigh in on the really important issues. Professor Michael Duggan of St. Mary's University College in Calgary on the scriptural interpretation:

Duggan said the blood passages in the Hebrew Bible - Old Testament - often cited by Jehovah's Witnesses as their reasons to refuse blood transfusions are safe cooking instructions that date back to the 5th Century.

"That needs to be said," Duggan said. "The way the Jehovah's Witnesses read the biblical text is simply wrong."

The texts in the Hebrew Bible are mainly taken from Genesis 9:4-6 and from the book of Leviticus 17, he said.

"They speak about the life being in the blood, but the blood they are talking about is the blood of animals," Duggan said.

University of Calgary's Dr. Juliet Guichon on the social stigma:

But the blood battle has the potential to end happily for the parents and their babies, she said.
Ironically, it all depends on how hard they fight the government.

"(It) could be seen as liberating because it takes the parents out of an impossible social situation," said Guichon.

The parents, who risk being shunned for life by the church because their children received the transfusions, can now plead they abided by the blood ban, but couldn't stop the government, she said.

"They can hold their head up among the Jehovah's Witness community and say, 'We protested, we went to court.'"


Jim said...

I hope and expect that the Manitoba case will go to the Supreme Court. Crazy as their theology is, the court cases of the Witnesses often result in important civil rights case law. Restricting a young person's right to consent to treatment may have unintended consequences, reasonable though it may seem in this situation.

As for the parents of the BC sextuplets, the strong suspicion is that they conceived with the assistance of a fertility clinic. They should have known multiple births were likely, and transfusions almost certainly to be deemed medically necessary. I have no sympathy for them.

Robert G. said...


In this case (and without having read the ruling in detail), the court was dealing with a basic, established and uncontroversial medical procedure for which there was no practical alternative available. My layman's impression is that this has more to do with the procedure than the subject's status as a minor.

Jim said...

The right to refuse treatment is a very practical alternative.

The question is not whether the treatment is safe or effective. The question is in what circumstances is it justifiable to deny a person control over his or her own body. This is a particularly nettlesome problem when we are dealing with teenagers who are biologically adult (capable of reproduction) while philosophically naive and inexperienced.

I say this as a child who legally forced a parent to undergo a medical treatment against her will and religious beliefs.

And as an ex-Jehovah's Witness who decided at the age of 14 that if I ever needed a blood transfusion I was going to get one.

Robert G. said...

I agree that it's a thorny issue, and of course the legal system should ideally be a last resort for this kind of thing. But I don't know how you solve it without some kind of line-drawing. Allowing a 13-year-old to deny basic medical treatment, either because they're being pressured by their parents, rebelling against their parents or none of the above, sets an even more dangerous precedent.

If you're talking about the right to refuse medication, like Ritalin or anti-psychotics, that's a different kettle of fish, regardless of age.

Jim said...

Your right, lines must be drawn. And that's a job for the supreme court and/or parliament. The appeals court decision was only part of the process.

Anonymous said...


This website summarizes 300 United States court cases and lawsuits affecting children of Jehovah's Witnesses, including dozens of cases where the Parents refused to consent to life-saving blood transfusions:



This website summarizes 160 United States court cases and lawsuits filed by Jehovah's Witnesses against Employers: