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How Jehovah’s Witnesses Are Changing Medicine
The New Yorker

In the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul urges congregants to abstain “from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled, and from sexual immorality.” Jehovah’s Witnesses, apparently alone among Christian groups, believe this verse, along with others, prohibits them from accepting blood transfusions, no matter how dire the circumstance. As Joan Ortiz, a Witness in her sixties, recently told me, it’s as much a sin to take a blood transfusion as to have an extramarital affair. In this interpretation of Scripture, those who comply will prosper and enjoy good health. Those who don’t can be cut off from their people and denied resurrection. “Everything about us is carried in our blood,” said Ortiz. “Our personality, our sicknesses, all the good things about us. It’s who we are. It’s our soul.” It should not be mixed, even if life depends on it.

Though Witnesses accept virtually all other medical interventions, the stricture against transfusion can affect their care. Patients may need donor blood when they lose their own blood rapidly, as a result of a car crash or surgery, or when they develop severe anemia—for instance, during cancer treatment. In the past several decades, specialty programs in “bloodless medicine” that cater to Jehovah’s Witnesses have grown up at dozens of hospitals.

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