Coroner urges Jehovah's Witnesses to review blood transfusion ban

Digital Journal/November 10, 2011

Hobart -- A coroner has called on the leadership of the Jehovah's Witnesses to review the ban on blood transfusions after a death under circumstances he described as "graphically illustrating the consequence of rigid adherence to that doctrine." The Jehovah's Witness, who died of post-surgery complications, would likely have survived had she accepted a blood transfusion. That was the pronouncement of coroner Rod Chandler on the death of Judith Louise, 49, a woman from Glenorchy, Tasmania, Australia. reports Judith Louise Allen died of internal bleeding after a surgery at Royal Hobart Hospital. The coroner, according to Tasmania Mercury, listed the causes of her death as:

"...morbid obesity, chronic liver disease, atherosclerotic and hypertensive cardiovascular disease and religious views precluding transfusion of blood products".

Judith and her husband Simon, are Jehovah's Witnesses, who say their religious beliefs forbid them from accepting blood transfusions. reports staff at the Royal Hobart Hospital tried to convince Judith's husband to approve a transfusion for his wife after she began losing blood following the surgery, but Mr. Allen refused to approve, saying his religious belief prevented him. His wife died on the morning after the surgery. Coroner Rod Chandler expressing his professional opinion said:

" my opinion, [it was] highly likely that the internal bleeding that arose following the lap band revision could have been successfully treated and Mrs Allen's life saved...In these circumstances Mrs Allen's death was clearly preventable."

The coroner went on to say:

"No criticism should be made of Mr and Mrs Allen for their choice of religious faith...I accept that this doctrine has been an entrenched principle of the Jehovah Witness religion since 1945 despite considerable debate...Nevertheless, Mrs Allen's death most graphically illustrates the consequence of the rigid adherence to that doctrine and brings me to recommend, perhaps forlornly, that the Jehovah Witness Governing Body and its elders give consideration to a relaxation of its doctrine."

Tasmania Mercury reports there are over 2,400 Witnesses in Tasmania, in 24 congregations. An elder of the sect, Graeme Martin, who spoke in response to the coroner's statement, said there is plenty of research supporting "non-blood medical management" in cases of religious choice not to accept transfusion. Elder Graeme Martin, said:

"growing medical evidence of a decreased mortality rate with non-blood medical management".

Tasmania Mercury lists recent cases of blood transfusion controversy involving Jehovah's Witnesses in Australia:

May 2011 - A Jehovah's Witness woman from Melbourne life was saved by using synthetic cows blood. December 2010 - A Victorian judge ruled a Jehovah's Witness's written refusal of a blood transfusion had to be honoured even after he became unconscious. June 2010 - A South Australian Supreme Court overruled the wishes of a Jehovah's Witness family and ordered that their son receive potentially life-saving blood transfusions despite their objections. August 2009 - A dying NSW man's last request has been granted after a court allowed him to refuse medical treatment on religious grounds.

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