Ethical Issues and the Religious and Historical Basis for the Objection of Jehovah’s Witnesses to Blood Transfusion Therapy

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This book explores the sensitive area of medical decision-making in cases where a patient refuses recommended medical treatment for religious or moral reasons. The case in point is the refusal of blood transfusion therapy by Jehovah’s Witnesses. The theological and historical basis is examined in depth. The history of blood use in medicine is also analyzed, including the role of bloodletting as the ‘queen of remedies’ for centuries and eventually the emergence of the reverse practice, blood transfusion. Against this backdrop of theological, historical, and medical information, the study examines the ethical and legal issues raised by the stand of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The principle of ‘autonomy’ and its development into a legal concept, as well as its introduction into medical ethics leading to the development of the doctrine of ‘informed consent’ into both a legal rule as well as an ethical duty imposed on health care professionals are considered.


“The issues that are dealt with in the text are important both to the general public and to the medical community….Carbonneau is a distinguished lawyer who has special expertise in bioethics. He has applied this knowledge to explore, in a very close way, the relationship between physician and patient. He is specifically concerned with a patient’s right to accept or refuse medical treatment….it should not be forgotten that Jehovah’s Witnesses’ legal battles for the rights of patients to refuse unwanted medical treatment has increased the civic liberties of everyone. This text allows us to better appreciate what has been done in this regard…..Mr. Carbonneau has also served both his own and a much wider community by undertaking this work. It has been especially well done.” – Mark Boyd, MD, FRCSC, FRCOG, FACOG

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
Introduction: The ‘Informed Doctor’ Approach
Section One: Jehovah’s Witnesses and Blood Transfusion
1. The Basis for their Objection to Blood Transfusions
2. Overview of the Use of Blood in Medicine
3. Effective Alternatives
4. A Profound Religious Belief
Section Two: Ethical and Legal Issues Raised by the Objection
5. New Principles and Rules
6. The ‘Life is Sacred’ Principle
7. The Principle of Autonomy
8. The Rule of Informed Consent (or Refusal)
9. When Traditional Rules are Not Enough
10. ‘Informed Doctor’ – Better Equipped to Respect Patients’ Beliefs
Bibliography; Index

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