When Domenica Asciutto entered hospital she had everything to live for. The
young woman was about to give birth to her first child, and with her husband
Carmelo she shared a neat and comfortable home in Melbourne's north west.
But Mrs Asciutto's faith was about to lead her to a decision few others would be prepared to make. Seriously ill after severe complications from childbirth, she refused a potentially life-saving blood transfusion. On Wednesday night she died in the Alfred Hospital, days after giving birth to a stillborn child, Jessica.
Like Mrs Asciutto, Australia's 60,000 or so Jehovah's Witnesses remain committed to the church's doctrine forbidding blood transfusions - despite signs the church's American-based headquarters is softening its position. Last month the Watchtower Society issued a statement from New York that has been described as a don't ask, don't tell policy.
Witnesses who accept transfusions and do not genuinely repent are no longer disfellowshipped (excommunicated) but regarded as disassociating themselves. The policy means Witnesses effectively have to come forward with an admission of guilt.
Yet spokesmen for the church in Australia and New York deny there has been any practical change, and insist the church remains opposed to transfusions.
But Associated Jehovah's Witnesses for Reform on Blood, an international reform group within the church, believes the statement may herald the start of a wider shift on blood policy.
The AJWRB said earlier this month that the church continues to disfellowship Witnesses who take drugs or commit adultery so it is noteworthy that they have singled out blood transfusions as one sin to be treated differently
Last month the church also indicated in a statement that receiving transfusions of minor components of blood - not formally defined - is acceptable. (Patients today rarely receive whole blood transfusions, as scientists have learnt how to fractionalise blood into separate parts.)
But the church's city supervisor in Melbourne, Mr Des Zanker, said yesterday that suggestions that the church had softened its policies on blood were absolute lying propaganda. They have come from apostates who have left the faith he said.
He also rejected suggestions that the church had eased its policies in Europe because governments there were refusing to grant legal recognition to the church because of its no-blood policy. We don't compromise to spread our faith he said.
Mr Zanker said witnesses were finding it easier, not harder, to reject blood transfusions because the medical profession was more supportive and more bloodless methods of treatment had become available.
The number of people (entering the church) who bring it up as an issue is minuscule. These days we find people in hospital who say they are Jehovah's Witnesses so as not to have a blood transfusion.
Mr Zanker said some people had died as a result of transfusions, and it was by no means certain that a transfusion would have helped Mrs Asciutto.
For now, at least, it seems there will be little change towards blood among the church's Australian followers.