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Religion, blood transfusion, and vaccination

Jehovah’s Witnessa Christian denomination that avoids blood transfusions, views vaccination against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as a personal decision. 

“Many of Jehovah’s Witnesses choose to get vaccinated,” said Gideon L. Aves, director of Hospital Information Services for Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Philippines. 

Since the pandemic broke out, he added, the denomination has published reminders in hundreds of languages that encourage adherence to safety protocols.  

Jehovah’s Witnesses choose to receive medical care that is compatible with their Bible-based beliefs to avoid blood transfusions.   

The denomination’s Hospital Liaison Committees (HLCs) have been working with healthcare professionals and hospitals to offer assistance to Jehovah’s Witness patients, their families, and the physicians who care for them.   

The Christian ministers are chosen based on their capacity to render pastoral care for fellow Witnesses even during times of emergency, said Mr. Aves, director of Hospital Information Services for Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Philippines, in an e-mail to BusinessWorld 

The ministers are trained on the basic functions of the blood, as well as knowledge on the different clinical strategies to avoid blood transfusions in cases that include surgery, critical care medicine, and gastroenterology.  

There are 1,700 HLCs in 100 worldwide. In the Philippines, there are 22 HLCs that collaborate with physicians and hospitals, including Asian Hospital and Medical Center, Makati Medical Center, National Children’s Hospital, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center Cebu, Eastern Visayas Medical Center in Tacloban, and Cagayan Valley Medical Center in Tuguegarao.  

For diseases like anemia and surgeries like caesarian sections that typically require blood transfusion, Jehovah’s Witness focus on controlling blood loss through improving hematopoiesis (or the patient’s own production of blood cells), reducing the quantity and frequency of phlebotomy (or the drawing of blood for analysis), and minimally invasive surgical techniques (if noninvasive approaches are unavailable). 

The advantages of bloodless medical procedures are the zero likelihood of being affected by blood-borne pathogens, as well as unknown blood transfusion reactions.  

Techniques used by the US Johns Hopkins’ Center for Bloodless Medicine and Surgery include pre-surgery medications that increase the number of red blood cells; the dilution of blood which lessens the impact of blood loss during surgery; advanced hemostatics (products that stop bleeding) that can be used before, during, and after surgery; and electrocautery that quickly seals off bleeding blood vessels.  

Patients have the right to make decisions about their medical treatments, per the Patient’s Bill of Rights, and the care of patients requires meeting their individual needs, culture, and beliefs.  

According to Cultural Religious Competence In Clinical Practice, published in 2021, preservation of life overrides guidelines: In a life-threatening situation, there are no restrictions on medications and surgical interventions.   

There are 232,587 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Philippines. — Patricia B. Mirasol 

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