LONDON - Jehovah's Witnesses whose faith forbids them having blood transfusions must be allowed the right to die if they do not consent to life-saving treatment, according to new guidelines for British doctors published Tuesday.
Anaesthetists, who are responsible for carrying out blood transfusions, were told they have to respect the wishes of Jehovah's Witness patients, even if it meant death.
Michael Ward, chairman of the Association of Anaesthetists working party, which drew up the guidelines, says: "Administering blood to a Jehovah's Witness without consent has been likened by the movement to rape.
"It would not result in expulsion from the community but would have a deep psychological effect on the patient."
The report notes that to administer blood to a patient who has steadfastly refused to accept it is "unlawful, ethically unacceptable and may lead to criminal and or civil proceedings".
However, the "right to die" provision did not extend to children not deemed able to make a competent decision. In that situation "all life-saving treatment" should be given, irrespective of the parents' wishes.
There are an estimated 145,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in Britain and Ireland. Part of their faith decrees that accepting another person's blood is a sin.
The belief is based on passages in the Bible which forbid the consumption of blood.