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Some Controversy

Posted on April 12th, 2005

John emailed me this today (minor edits made):


Jehova’s Witnesses are against blood transfusions. Like, they think it’s a horrible thing to do to themselves (on the level of rape). Sometimes you need a blood transfusion to live. This was the case with a 14 year old girl in BC. She didn’t want a transfusion, but without one she would die.

The head of the Witnesses in BC said that the girl’s religious beliefs outweigh her right to life and liberty or whatever. The court decided that the right to life outweighed her religious beliefs.

So I’m just curious if there is like, a widely held Christian agreement with the Jehova’s Witness view that religious beliefs should outweigh the right/responsability to live.

I normally try to stay out of religious debates, and I was just curious about your take on the situation.

Like, I wonder if the court’s decision would have been different if it were more a mainstream Christian belief vs. a cult Christian belief.

Also of note is the fact that the court thought that the girl was too young to have questioned her parents/religion’s teachings.


I was going to email him back, but I figured that it would be a good idea to solicit some other opinions on this as well. The original article can be found by following this link.

Let me first remark that this case reminds me about the Terri Schiavo situation: here is a person who needs medical assistance to survive and some party with a clear relationship with the person wishes otherwise. The case goes to court, and there’s a big legal stink in the news.

And to my thoughts. As far as I know, this is somewhat unique because, in most Christian circles, religious beliefs support the right to life. This all, of course, depends on the denomination’s interpretation of the Bible which, in turn, influences the doctrines that are established. I am fairly certain that the major denominations consider the human body extremely important (as it is the “temple of the Holy Spirit”), so I would be hard-pressed that their beliefs would conflict with the proliferation of someone’s life.

That said, I cannot think of anything that would resemble this involving a larger “mainstream” Christian belief; I would imagine that parents in the predominant Christian churches would have supported this blood transfusion. So I am at somewhat of a loss in terms of how to answer your second inquiry.

What I will do, however, is try to address another large issue: the ability of a legal institution to overrule the decision of a person in regards to her own life.

I certainly see the court’s point of view: here is a fourteen year old girl saying that she would rather die than to have a blood transfusion. I, personally, question the rationality with which she made the decision, and I wonder if there were external influences on her choice. There is obviously the pressure to conform to her religious beliefs, and her spiritual maturity would have to weigh in on any decision that I would make. When I was fourteen, I was very good at reciting off what I should believe, but that is very different from what I actually believed. The problem is, though, that it is very difficult to gauge her spiritual condition.

The next thing that I would consider is the age of reason. The Catholic Church considers most seven year olds to have reached this point. I, however, contend that the age is significantly higher than that; even fourteen may be a bit of a stretch. Children, in general, lack the experience to understand the implications of a lot of decision that they make, and that can lead to very grave consequences (pun intended).

There is a significant problem with knowing when a person has reached their age of reason. Consider this analogy: at what point would you consider a bald man actually bald? When he has a significant bald spot on the top of his head? When he has 100 hairs left? 1? Or does he have to have absolutely no hair on his head? The same is true for the age: it’s subjective. Even if the age was arbitrarily set to fourteen years of age, how much of a difference would there be between a child who is 13.99999 years of age, and one who made this decision on her fourteenth birthday? My answer is absolutely none. The same argument would then apply to someone who is 13.99998 years of age, and so on.

On the other hand is the girl who says that she does not want to have anything to do with a blood transfusion. She cites her religious beliefs as a reason, and seems to understand her right to live her life as she pleases quite clearly. Even if her reasons were entirely different, does she not have every right to decide her fate? How is it any different from a terminally ill person who does not want to endure the pain of treatment anymore?

The whole quality of life vs. euthanasia debate is a very messy one. Because this is a normative argument – one based around morals and ethics – one cannot objectively arrive at a correct answer. It is very much a matter of principles, and here lies the problem.

But here is my answer: while I support the court’s decision, I am not sure if the court was in the position to make it. A human being is much more than a cog in the legal system. Instead, I would have liked to see members of the spiritual community appeal to her and convince her to stay alive. It would be a crying shame to let her lose all of her potential.

Another interesting thing to note is this: if this case didn’t make it to the courts now, it could have very well made it because, if she were to remain untreated, would it not have been manslaughter or assisted suicide?

I am very curious to hear what others think about this.

5 Responses to “Some Controversy”

  1. Justin Says:

    It turns out that I somewhat missed the point of what John was asking. We spoke briefly about it, and he wanted to know if I felt that there was a correct viewpoint between the judge believing that life supercedes religious beliefs and the girl (and Jehova’s Witnesses) believing that religious beliefs are more important than life.

    So after a bit more thought, I have this to say: there is no correct viewpoint. In a philosophical debate such as the one presented in this case, there is no definitively right thing to do. So I am afraid that I am going to have to sit on the fence on this one.

    Compare this to the abortion issue. There are clearly two different sides to this, and the pro-life side has a lot of religious support. The pro-choice side, on the other hand, has a lot of secular support. And I do realize that I am generalizing, but let’s just do this for argument’s sake.

    Now suppose legislation comes in that makes abortions illegal (as it has in many places around the world). Does that make abortion wrong, just because a particular group of people think so? Does the right for a mother’s unborn child to live absolutely outweigh the right for her to decide what happens to her body?

    Who are we to decide? Even if the courts do decide, does that bring us closer to the truth? My answer is no. Because this is not black and white.. because this is strictly a difference of opinions, there is no absolute right or wrong.

    So going back to the original case. The judge was correct in his ruling because he interpreted the law as it was written. Perhaps the real point of contention should be whether that law should have been there in the first place.

  2. Jasmine Says:

    Wow… am I right in inferring that you don’t hold a strong position on either side of the abortion issue? That surprises me Justin. I was sure you’d have an opinion on that.

    But back to the original post – I don’t know what I think. I believe that in a normal rational adult, religious beliefs should take precedence in a situation like this. So I guess I’m inclined to think that this girl should have been allowed to decide whatever she wants. The issue of her age, and whether or not she was capable of such a decision, is tricky though. If it were me, I feel that at 14 I would have been firm enough in my beliefs to make this kind of decision, so who knows where she is really at spiritually.

    Hmmmm…… All I have to say is this – I’m glad I’m not the judge who had to decide this case. But if I were, I may have made a different decision than he/she made. But I guess I can never really know without having been there.

  3. Jasmine Says:

    Just a random note: Jehovah’s Witnesses came by my house today. Luckily I was not here and didn’t have to deal with them. But I thought that was an odd coincidence – I read this last night and today they visited me.

  4. Rodney Says:

    I agree with Jasmine – I’m surprised that you don’t have an opinion on that (if I understand what you’re trying to say).

    Religious rights vs. health and life. It’s tricky to know where to draw the line. If the person in question had been 16 or 18 (or whatever the age is to make your own choice in medical decisions), then this issue would be moot. But as for someone who might not totally understand how things work and far-reaching implications of her decision…this is something that I’ll have to think about.

  5. Justin Says:

    By no means am I undecided on the abortion issue. I definitely have an opinion on it, but I also understand that my opinion is not absolutely right or wrong, nor can it be proven one way or another. The whole issue revolves around the definition of life and the span of control that a person has over her body, which is strictly subjective.

    Back to the original post – I think part of the problem is our need to arbitrarily assign an age that we would consider “adult” or “reasoned.” John and I talked about it, and I certainly find it silly that, by law, people will be forced to do certain things (e.g. take transfusions against their will) and then, at some arbitrary moment, be free to end their life by stopping. What the heck.

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