Last week a teenage Jehovah’s Witness in Sydney lost his bid to refuse a blood transfusion after a court ruled that staff at the Sydney Children’s Hospital should be allowed to give him the treatment.
The 17-year-old is a cancer patient with Hodgkin’s disease, and doctors warned him he had an 80% chance of dying unless blood was administered.
Justice Ian Gzell first ordered that the boy be treated with blood back in March, but he immediately appealed against the decision. So determined was the boy, referred to as “patient X,” that he told doctors he would rip the IV out of his arm if forced to have a transfusion – which he compared to rape.
A video discussing the case shortly before it was settled is shown below…
As you will see from the above video, much of the dilemma surrounding this case involved the fact that patient X is only 17 and just a few months away from being legally free to refuse treatment. But Justice Gzell recognized that preserving the boy’s life and getting him to his eighteenth birthday was the main consideration. “The sanctity of life in the end is a more powerful reason for me to make the orders than is respect for the dignity of the individual,” he said.
Free will, or coercion?
It was also noted that although patient X was an intelligent teenager and a “mature minor” who was devoted to his faith, he had also been “cocooned in that faith” for his whole life. This raised the question of why the boy was refusing the treatment in the first place. Was he truly expressing his free and independent will, or was he under some form of coercion?
I may be able to answer that question.
The quote attributed to patient X, that he would consider any attempted transfusion as rape and rip the IV from his arm, was eerily similar to sentiments expressed by another teenager in an Awake! magazine printed nearly ten years earlier (bold is mine)…
“On the fourth day of the trial, Lisa gave testimony. One of the questions put to her was how the forced midnight transfusion made her feel. She explained that it made her feel like a dog being used for an experiment, that she felt she was being raped, and that being a minor made some people think they could do anything to her. She hated seeing someone else’s blood going into her, wondering if she would get AIDS or hepatitis or some other infectious disease from it. And chiefly, she was concerned about what Jehovah would think of her breaking his law against taking someone else’s blood into her body. She said if it ever happened again, she ‘would fight and kick the IV pole down and rip out the IV no matter how much it would hurt, and poke holes in the blood.’“
The above quote is taken from page 12 of the May 22 1994 Awake! magazine. It relates to the trial of Lisa Kosack, a Canadian Witness teenager who went to court to stop doctors from giving her blood. Given the similarities in testimony between her and patient X, it seems highly plausible that this experience was related to patient X, perhaps to influence his thinking and suggest how vehemently he should refuse treatment.
There was, however, a notable difference in outcomes between patient X and Lisa. You see, Lisa’s judge was so swayed by her emotional refusal of blood that he denied the application for a forced transfusion and allowed her to abandon her treatment and leave the hospital.
Lisa later died at home with her parents.
During her trial, an attorney asked Lisa, “do you want to die?” To which she replied, “No, I don’t think anybody wants to die, but if I do die I’m not going to be scared, because I know that I have the hope of everlasting life in a paradise on earth.”
A shameful magazine cover
Lisa’s photo was featured along with those of two other Witness children who died refusing blood on the front cover of the same Awake! magazine that related the events leading up to her death. The magazine’s headline was “Youths Who Put God First.” It is likely that the other 23 smiling youths pictured in the background of the cover illustration were also victims of Watchtower’s no-blood policy, but this is nowhere clearly stated, nor are the youths named.
Only a few weeks ago this website reported on the case of a baby in New Zealand who was similarly ordered to receive blood by court intervention. I argued in that article that the Witness ban on blood transfusions is not only wrong and unnecessary, but can even be considered contrary to scripture.
The trouble is that Witnesses are so deeply indoctrinated by Watchtower into believing that the ban on blood represents God’s wishes that they applaud sickening articles like the one above, in which the organization went so far as to brag about prematurely ending the lives of innocent children.
I can remember only too well when I was once swayed by such propaganda. I even recall being shown the above magazine by my parents as a teenager and practicing things to say (very similar to those said by poor Lisa) if I ever found myself in a situation were I was urged to take blood.
It brings a lump to my throat that my name could so easily have been added to the deathtoll, since I was determined to fight to refuse blood if it came to it – no matter what. I’m sure many Witness readers will relate to my experience, and will have similar stories of their parents coercing and training them to refuse treatment. Frankly, the danger we were in as Witness youths, and the price paid by some of our peers, is almost too much to contemplate.
I can only console myself with knowing that doctors and judges are anxious to preserve the lives of Witness children even if the Governing Body couldn’t care less. It is unlikely that we will ever learn what becomes of patient X, and I wish him all the best. But if he ends up living a long and happy life he will have Justice Ian Gzell and his doctors to thank, and certainly not the Watch Tower Society.