New Scientist and Blood Transfusions

When speaking medicine with someone who doesn’t care for Jehovah’s Witnesses, one finds that “blood transfusion” is always linked with “life-saving.” There are no exceptions. The noun and adjective must never be separated. At least, not until recently. At long last, the link is beginning to crumble. “Life-threatening” is fast emerging as a reality to offset, in part, the “life-saving.” Not among JW detractors, of course, who will still be chanting “life-saving blood transfusions” as they are lowered into their graves. But among those who actually keep up with things, matters are changing fast.

It is the only conclusion one can reach upon reading the April 26, 2008 New Scientist magazine. Entitled ‘An Act of Faith in the Operating Room,’ an article reviews study after study, and concludes that for all but the most catastrophic cases, blood transfusions harm more than they help. Says Gavin Murphy, a cardiac surgeon at the Bristol Heart Institute in the UK: “There is virtually no high-quality study in surgery, or intensive or acute care, outside of when you are bleeding to death, that shows that blood transfusion is beneficial, and many that show it is bad for you.” Difficulties stem from blood deteriorating in even brief storage, from its assault on the immune system, and from its impaired ability to deliver oxygen. In short, the “act of faith” referred to is not withholding a blood transfusion. It is giving one.

One study cited is from the journal Circulation, vol 116, p 2544: “For almost 9000 patients who had heart surgery in the UK between 1996 and 2003, receiving a red cell transfusion was associated with three times the risk of dying in the following year and an almost six fold risk of dying within 30 days of surgery compared with not receiving one. Transfusions were also associated with more infections and higher incidences of stroke, heart attack and kidney failure—complications usually linked to a lack of oxygen in body tissues.”

Once before I ventured into the blogosphere with similar thoughts and I count myself lucky to have escaped with my life: “You are welcome to your belief that blood is a dangerous substance that God wants you to avoid,” said Charlie. “But please, don’t claim that you are doing so out of reason.” “In the USA we have the inalienable right to be idiots, as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else,” lectured Chemish. From Stanley: “Refusing a life-saving blood transfusion (which hasn’t even any side effects) is clearly insane if the refusal is just because of the blood transfusion itself.” Greg: “Why is this crazy religion not a form of mental incompetence?” Justin: “My take on the matter is that ultimately anyone who subscribes to the no-blood doctrine has been brainwashed and is not fit to make decisions for themselves on this basis.”

And you should have heard them when I mentioned Dr. Bruce Speiss. They went positively apoplectic when he dared to use the R-word: “So it’s just largely been a belief system—almost a religion, if you will—that if you give a unit of blood, patients will get better” “What a crank!” they charged. He must be a Jehovah’s Witness himself. (He is not, but he might as well become one, for he will now have to deny it to his dying day.) Isn’t he the fellow selling cherry cola as a blood substitute? Didn’t he buy his medical degree online?

But now it turns out that everything Dr. Speiss said was correct—yes, even the religion part. Says New Scientist: “At first glance it seems astonishing that a technique used so widely for so long could be doing such harm. Yet many surgeons have proved reluctant to submit their methods to systematic study….[Their] assumptions went untested for the better part of a century”

And you should have seen these guys carry on when I suggested that the medical community would one day owe a debt to Jehovah’s Witnesses for setting them on the right track, urging the development of bloodless medicine. “Scientists invented bloodless medicine all by themselves!” they shrieked, guided only by their Scientific Method—climbing ever upward and onward—fearlessly pushing the bounds of human knowledge—all to the glorification of Science! “They don’t give two hoots about your pissy little religion!”

But in fact, some of them do. “[Bloodless surgery] was originally developed to enable Jehovah’s Witnesses, who shun transfusions, to undergo major surgery,” states the article, and then considers some of its advantages. Indeed, New Scientist opens with scripture: “‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood. No soul of you shall eat blood.’ So says the Bible’s book of Leviticus, and it is for this reason that Jehovah’s Witnesses shun blood transfusions.” Perhaps, the magazine suggests, all persons should be treated as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Now, I don’t want to gloat over this development. I really don’t. Really and truly. Honestly.

On the other hand—Come on! You would too if you were in my shoes! For decades, we Witnesses were the ignorant slaves of superstition. Transfusion proponents, on the other hand, were the all-wise devotees of modern medical science. What right had we to not to do as we were told? I’ve known three persons in my lifetime who were told, point blank and without the slightest empathy, that they would die if they did not consent to a blood transfusion. None of these three consented. None died. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t smoke, they don’t do drugs, they don’t drink to excess—all factors whose health risks, by their sheer prevalence, far outweigh anything having to do with transfusions. They are entirely cooperative with all aspects of medical care, barring only one. Unless fixated on just that one item, a doctor could not ask for better patients.

These findings, so new to the medical establishment, are not new to us. Witnesses have been accumulating them for years, trying to share them with doctors, usually being rebuffed, all the while with the media whipping folks into near hysteria. All we ever wanted was that our own religious conscience be respected, that medical people would not huff, “It’s my way or the highway!” and run roughshod over our consciences. Treat it as an allergy ruling out the favored treatment, if you must, and do the best you can under those circumstances. Decades ago Jehovah’s Witnesses formed Hospital Information Service committees from local volunteers and sent them into medical establishments to keep them informed on the latest advances in bloodless medicine. Believe me, it was not easy. Constantly we had to contend with, “And what medical school did you get your degree from?” But it has paid off. Here and there, fearless doctors have acknowledged our point of view and have worked to accommodate it. We are most grateful to these medical pioneers, who usually had to withstand much pressure from their own peers.

Did the New Scientist article declare blood transfusions inadvisable in all circumstances? No. It is still thought to be the best option in cases of severe anemia and catastrophic blood loss. But perhaps these views, too, will change. After all, if blood threatens harm to a healthy person, can it really be the treatment of choice for a critically ill one? Surely something from the field of bloodless medicine will emerge as superior, if it hasn’t already.

Incidentally, blood banks apparently plan no changes at present. “If all blood had to be used within two weeks, it would cause a major inventory problem,” says James Isbister, an adviser to the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, quoted in the article. Right. Just like that time I bought a basket of spoiled fruit and spent the week in the bathroom with diarrhea. I wasn’t upset. I realized it was my duty to grin and bear it. I didn’t want to screw up their inventory.

Anti-Witness “activists” should scream about blood transfusion and Jehovah’s Witnesses? Witnesses are the safest religion out there. Have there been deaths due to their transfusion stand? They are made up for 1,000 times over by their no-tolerance policy of tobacco, illicit drugs, and overdrinking. An anti-Witness activist truly interested in preserving life would direct his or her attention almost anywhere else.

Of course, one must be cautious with the above statement lest it appear callous. The survivors of one who has died for any reason will not be comforted to know he could have died in numerous other ways—the JW death was unnecessary, their detractors will allege. Well, that can be equally said of all the other ones, with the added travesty that no principle lay behind them at all other than the mere pursuit of pleasure. If Witness opponents would “protect” people from making choices that they don’t want them to make, surely these far more numerous causes of death should incur their ire long before transfusion situations.

And how can extreme sports not be railed against, or even regular sports? It is not uncommon to read of youths dying in this way, and if we count paralysis or foreshortened life due to head trauma, the numbers greatly escalate. Did anyone watch the youngster, an accomplished athlete, soaring thirty feet in the air on the Olympics half-pipe, come down crashing on the edge, and then slide limp into the center track? How many children have died or been maimed trying to emulate that trick, the purpose of which is no more noble than shining before others as daredevil and providing entertainment? For that matter, do we not read of far more driving deaths for youngsters than for those older? Ban them from the road. Find the age with the lowest death stats and ban driving at any other age. Let us veer into hyperbolic here, so as to illustrate that it is possible to paint oneself a great fool in one’s quest to restrict the freedom of others.

The willingness to put one’s life on the line for almost any cause is accepted as a matter of individual choice, often laudable individual choice. Only with those from the Jehovah’s Witness community is an exception made in the popular media. When a youngster dies through daredevil sports, is the coach ever fingered as an accessory to murder, as Jehovah’s Witnesses have been with regard to transfusions? No. We all know it—children so dying are lionized for living life to the full and giving their all in the quest of their dreams. It is only when their dreams include God that they are painted as “cult” victims.

From the book TrueTom vs the Apostates!

00

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’

Isaac Asimov and Ignaz Semmelweis

I once worked with a girl named Casey who positively loved science fiction. In the context of other things, I mentioned the film I, Robot.

Oh, that was terrible! she said.

But as we kept talking, it turned out she had never seen it. Um...Casey, how do know it's terrible if you've never seen it? I asked. The answer was that she was a purist. She knew the movie did not follow Isaac Asimov's storyline, and that was enough for her!

For an Asimov purist, the movie would indeed be blasphemy. Asimov, who wrote almost all the time, having 500 books (written or edited) and 90,000 letters to his credit, with works in nine of the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal system, penned the Foundation trilogy and the I, Robot series, both pillars among science fiction. His plotting was ingenious, and had he been able to empathetically sketch people as well as ideas, he might have gone down as one of literature's true greats. Alas, his characters are cardboard, like those TV characters who are freely interchangeable save for one or two superficial features: this one is mean, this one likes to eat, that one is a geek, etc. Too bad - for every other aspect of Asimov's writing is extraordinary.

Asimov was an atheist, but I always imagine that, if current atheists had been taught the Bible by Jehovah's Witnesses instead of the churches, they may not have turned atheist. It's probably not so but I dream it anyway. For example, in his last autobiographical book, Asimov observes that hell is "the drooling dream of a sadist" crudely affixed to an all-merciful God; if even human governments were willing to curtail cruel and unusual punishments, wondered Asimov, why would punishment in the afterlife not be restricted to a limited term.  [Wikipedia entry on Isaac Asimov] Yeah! Man, I wish he had heard first from Jehovah's Witnesses! Virtually alone among Christian faiths at the turn of the last century, Jehovah's Witnesses exposed hellfire for the vicious rubbish that it is. JW "founder" C. T. Russell was known in his lifetime as the man who "turned the hose on hell and put out the fire!"

At any rate, had he been a Witness, it would have benefited him personally. He died in 1992, of AIDS contracted from a blood transfusion nine years prior.

Still, I am grateful to Dr. Asimov, not only for the hours of intriguing science fiction he laid upon me, but also for his non-fiction works. Asimov's Guide to Science probably was my springboard to individual branches of science. If Asimov lacked in sketching fictional characters, he was gifted in sketching real ones. Not only the pillars, but also the buffoons, he succeeded in portraying the humanity of scientists. It is from him (Asimov's guide to Biology) that I first read of Ignaz Semmelweis, early advocate of antiseptic surgical practices and forerunner of germ theory.

In the mid 1800's, Semmelweis got it in his head that fever and death following doctor-assisted childbirth could be curtailed by washing hands and equipment frequently. Doctors back then would deliver a baby, having just emerged from an autopsy, only wiping their hands on their smocks! There were some sort of tiny "particles" contaminating the women, Semmelweis proposed. Doctors howled with laughter at such nonsense. Asimov's book vividly portrays Semmelweis' presenting his ideas at seminars, with his esteemed audience mocking him, hurling catcalls! Doctors argued that, even if Semmeweis' findings were correct, washing one's hands each time before treating a pregnant woman would be too much work. Semmelweis enforced strict antiseptic practices at the hospital under his supervision, cutting deaths to under 1%, and it made no difference in their attitude! Colleagues ridiculed him his entire life, he suffered a nervous breakdown and, says Asimov, died in an insane asylum tormented by memories of women screaming in their death-agonies following hospital-acquired infections. With Semmelweis out of the way, his own hospital went back to familiar practices and the mortality rate climbed to 35%.

You can read the bare facts in many places, but Asimov's account is the most vivid I have come across, remarkable in a book that purports only to be an outline, a "guide."

Whenever those atheists start prattling on about how scientists graciously change their views at the first hint they may be off-base, whereas it's only the pig-headed religionists who "stay the course" come hell or high water, I play the 'Semmelweis' card.

Athiest or not, I miss Isaac Asimov.

A5AA677E-8AAF-4FDE-9FAD-0D8002CFFC29

**********************************  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’

Life Saving and Life Threatening Blood Transfusions

In all history, there's never been a JW detractor who's used the noun blood transfusion uncoupled to the adjective life-saving. Thus, from time to time we hear of so-and-so, who's health is in jeopardy because he refuses a life saving blood transfusion. Always, the message is the same: what kind of a crackpot religion would persuade its members to decline a life saving blood transfusion?

But we now know that life-saving is the wrong term. The correct term is life-threatening. Bloodless medicine, where available, is usually the treatment of choice. Largely due to Jehovah's Witnesses, scores of medical centers exclusively devoted to bloodless surgery have cropped up in North America and worldwide.

Everybody knows that blood is a foreign tissue, even when types match, and they also know that the body tries to reject foreign tissue. Suppress the immune system, and that creates other problems. Bloodless medicine avoids the issue, and is thus safer.

The latest authority to weigh in is cardiothoracic specialist Bruce Spiess, addressing the Australian and New Zealand College of Anesthetists. (May 28, 2007) He declares blood transfusions have hurt more people than they've helped. Transfusions, he observes, are "almost a religion" because physicians practice them without solid evidence that they help. "Blood transfusion has evolved as a medical therapy and it's never been tested like a major drug," he said. "A drug is tested for safety and efficacy, blood transfusion has never been tested for either one."

Hurt more people than they've helped! That's an incredible statement, given that transfusions are always given to help and frequently given in the belief that they are absolutely essential, life saving!

He cites a Swedish study of 499 Jehovah's Witnesses which shows their survival rate after declining transfusions is higher than that of patients who received them. Such studies are becoming commonplace.

He told the conference: "If you come to surgery, we should ethically treat every patient as if they were a Jehovah's Witness...."

This "almost a religion" description squares with my own experience. Through the years, I've personally known three people who were told point blank, curtly and without the slightest empathy, that they would die without a transfusion. None of them agreed to one. None of them died. Alright, one did die years later, but she was in her 80's. I've never personally known anyone who was told they'd die without a transfusion and who actually did die. Mind you, I don't doubt there have been such ones. I've just never known any, whereas I have known three with the other outcome.

My point is that the life-giving blood transfusion mantra is overstated. Partly this happens because, if a person dies after refusing a transfusion, the added blood that never was is always reported as the cause! It does not matter if the person passed through a veg-a-matic beforehand. If nobody ever died after receiving a life-saving blood transfusion, I'd be more moved. But as observed above, they die in greater numbers than those who refuse.

Old habits die hard, in medicine and most other areas, due to inertia. The words of Max Planke the physicist are applicable:

People think new truths are accepted when the proponents are able to convince the opponents. Instead, the opponents of the truth gradually die, and a new generation comes along who is familiar with the idea. 

Over time, and almost entirely born from the organized efforts of Jehovah's Witnesses, bloodless medicine will spread, to the benefit of JWs and non-JWs alike.

Watchtower has produced documentaries on what's being done today and why bloodless is safer. This documentary has won a few "film festival" awards. In other words, it is well done and not schlocky.

***************

Tom Irregardless and Me    No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’

Rebecca Did Recover

News update: Rebecca did recover. She was seen on other shows. And the actress that portrayed her mama really was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

This, of course, is Rebecca from The Practice, the lawyer TV show of last decade. She got caught in a bomb blast, you’ll recall, and ended up in the hospital, where doctors insisted she needed a blood transfusion. Only she wasn’t about to have one, because she was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who take seriously the Bible command to abstain from blood.  The Mama character materialized to give her moral support. But I had imagined that this was the last episode of the season, after which Rebecca landed another role in some other TV show, so that we were left in suspense as to whether or not she would recover. It turns out that she did.

Well, that’s indeed good news, Tom Sheepandgoats, but how do we know your update is accurate? Why didn’t you give us the straight scoop to begin with? Do you realize how close you are to being accused of being a false prophet?

Hard hitting, but fair questions.  Readers deserve an honest answer, not the kind of hogwash they usual….readers deserve an honest answer.

My source is Keith, who used to watch The Practice every week; it was one of his favorite shows. It was one of mine too, but I still rarely saw it. So I would give it a 92% probability that the Rebecca newsflash is accurate. The remaining 8% is to cover the possibility that my source got confused by summer reruns. It can happen to the best of us.

As for the Mama aspect of the story, the accuracy probability here is lower, perhaps 80%. My excellent source notwithstanding, this story smells a bit of JW folklore. Until I receive corroborating evidence, I put it in the same category as the John Denver story, (unfavorable to us),  the John Wayne story (favorable to us), and the Johnny Carson story (very favorable to us, and payback to John Denver).

********************

Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’

The Practice Gets it Right on Blood Transfusion

When TV writes Jehovah’s Witnesses into the plot, look out! We get clobbered. It not malicious, usually. They just don’t have a clue as to what we’re about. Nor are the hatchet jobs confined  to us. Religious folk never fare well on TV. There’s just not that many TV writers with religious backgrounds out there and they can’t picture the other side. Not that they toss and turn at night worrying about it. It’s much easier to use caricatures and stereotypes.

So I was blown away when an episode of The Practice episode featured Jehovah’s Witnesses and they got it right, and even, amazingly, treated us with dignity.

Do you remember Rebecca the receptionist? Well, it turns out she is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, though nobody knew it until she got caught in a bomb blast. And who would plant a bomb in the Practice’s office? This creepy psycho fellow, wasn’t he a former client? who’s been up to no good the past few episodes.

Anyway, they rush Rebecca to the hospital, where doctors decide only a blood transfusion will save her! But, lo and behold, Mama, a hitherto unknown character, shows up and declares that daughter is a Jehovah’s Witness who’s very serious about her faith. She has affidavits from the congregation to back her up. Head lawyer Bobby will have none of it. Rebecca needs blood, doctors say, and Bobby’s going to see that she gets it!

And so the stage is set for a drama that, incredibly, gets it right….mostly. We don’t come across as right-to-die extremists, nor death-wish martyrs. We aren’t doctor wannabes, telling medical personnel how to do their job. Our blood stand is Bible-based. Someone in the writing staff did some research. (for a change) Not absolute accuracy, but that's allowable, since no case is ever "typical," there’s always individual variation. We all have quirks.

Now, it should be pointed out that in the real world such situations shouldn’t pop up too often. You don’t just spring Surprise! No blood! on your doctor. Ideally, JW’s speak to their doctors beforehand, in good times. Not all doctors are comfortable with the added challenge of bloodless medicine. It’s not right to broadside them. Not to mention the anesthesiologist, who often frets more than the surgeon.

However, as mentioned, this was an emergency, brought on by a unabomber. They never wait for you to ask your doctor if bloodless medicine is right for you (and them).

In court, Bobby doesn’t believe Rebecca’s a Witness. Jehovah’s Witnesses talk about their faith, he says. Rebecca never did. That’s a good point, Bobby. They do. But Mama has an answer. Rebecca, who is black, is so worn down by facing prejudice that she has learned to keep her mouth shut. Well…… maybe. It’s not impossible. Especially if you’re the poor girl from the humble background working for hot-shot TV lawyers! (though she always seemed to hold her own pretty well)

What about blood cards? Bobby wants to know. Jehovah’s Witnesses carry blood cards. Rebecca didn’t have one. Right again, Bobby. They do. They’re called Medical Directives. Baptized witnesses have them. It’s odd Rebecca did not.

In fact, I’d almost side with Bobby around now: that Rebecca is not really a Witness, and Mama’s just an imposter. But what about those affidavits?

Lots of courtroom drama follows; The Practice could keep you riveted with courtroom drama. Bobby works himself into a frenzy. Rebecca can be saved, he charges at the bench, but…but for this….Voodoo religion! Mama calls him on it, and she never loses her cool. Yes, Bobby, you tipped your hand. This is not about respect for Rebecca’s conscience. This is about your own religious prejudice, pure and simple.

The judge rules for Mama. I couldn’t believe it!

Afterwards, no hard feelings. Indeed, there is respect, for Mama proved herself dignified and sound of mind. As if admitted to the bar, she and all the lawyers close the show around Rebecca’s bed, praying for recovery.

The Rebecca actress must have received a better job offer that year, for they wrote her out of the plot. The transfusion episode was her last. Thus we don't know how she made out!

Three videos are available from Jehovah’s Witnesses with regard to bloodless medicine. Click here to view them: (the 3rd, 4th, and 5th listings)

*********************************

Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’