A Jehovah's Witness died yesterday after refusing a blood transfusion following a car crash.
Bob Bain, 45, a father of two, was freed from the wreckage of his car after the accident on the M40 and taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, where he died. A hospital spokesman said he declined a transfusion in accordance with his religious beliefs.
A passenger in the car, Mark Southall, 29, also a Jehovah's Witness, refused a transfusion and was in a critical condition last night after having a leg amputated.
A spokesman for the Jehovah's Witnesses said yesterday that the faith did not allow transfusions because 'we feel that blood is a very special category of substance. The Bible repeatedly enjoins people not to take blood into their bodies and we accept that.'
He said most Jehovah's Witnesses carried a card, stating their opposition to the treatment in case they became unconscious.
'We try very hard to look after ourselves, but we do not accept blood transfusions. We accept any other medical treatment, but no transfusions. There are alternatives. If someone is haemorrhaging badly, the key to successful treatment is to stop the bleeding and to make up the circulating volume.'
Tony Stapleton, the hospital's general manager, said: 'Our policy is to respect the wishes of patients and their families in cases where they are able to make their wishes clear and we did not give him blood.'
The accident happened on Wednesday night between junctions six and seven, near Thame, Oxfordshire. Paramedics and ambulance crews fought to keep Mr Bain, an engineer from Rugeley, Staffordshire, alive as firefighters struggled for two hours to free him from the wreckage. He was conscious throughout.
A post-mortem examination is due to be held today and an inquest will be held.
The question of whether or not Jehova's Witnesses can be forced to have transfusions is fraught with legal complications.
Members of the faith claim they cannot, and cite a Court of Appeal decision last year by Lord Donaldson, former Master of the Rolls. He stated that if a doctor learnt that a patient was a Jehovah's Witness, but had no evidence of a refusal to accept blood transfusions, he or she should avoid administering blood for as long as possible.
But a British Medical Association spokeswoman said that although Jehovah's Witnesses may carry cards refusing transfusions, these are not legally binding.
She added: 'Dealing with an unconscious Jehovah's Witness who cannot say for himself whether doctors can give a blood transfusion is one of the most difficult dilemmas doctors and surgeons face today.'
Then it is up to the medical team to consult with friends and relations but the final clinical decision must come from the surgeons themselves.
Legal experts have suggested doctors could even be sued if they give a blood transfusion to a Jehovah's Witness who has not been able to give express permission.
In life-and-death situations involving children, doctors can fight to make a minor a ward of court. Then the court can decide whether or not to authorise a transfusion.