Jehovah’s Witnesses famously refuse blood transfusions — an irrational demand that has led to uncountable numbers of sad-but-preventable deaths.
At Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles, though, one doctor — an atheist — is determined to help JWs suffering from advanced leukemia live, even though a blood transfusion is a common way to treat the problem.
Dr. Michael Lill, head of the blood and marrow transplant program at Cedars-Sinai’s Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute, is a last recourse for Jehovah’s Witnesses with advanced leukemia.
They arrive at Lill’s door out of desperation and a desire to live. Many specialists decline to treat them because of their biblically centered refusal to accept blood transfusions, a mainstay of conventional care for the cancer.
Lill thinks their refusal is risky and illogical but nevertheless has devised a way to treat them that accommodates their religious convictions.
Despite his belief that God doesn’t exist, he has become a hero to many devout believers.
To avoid transfusions, Lill first builds up patients’ blood counts with medications. Then he limits blood loss during a regimen of chemotherapy and stem-cell transplants.When he draws blood from patients to check their cell counts and organ function during treatment, he uses tiny pediatric tubes. He gives women a drug to suppress their periods and prescribes a hormone to boost red blood cells.
He has trained his staff in how to treat Jehovah’s Witnesses, and “No Blood” signs are posted in their hospital rooms.
As much as I don’t really want Dr. Lill caving in to irrational demands, I think this article speaks to his ingenuity. He’s found a way to give JWs hope where none existed before — though if the JWs would just accept the blood rather than act like God doesn’t want them to receive it, none of this would really even be an issue in the first place…
Side note for anyone interested: A few years ago, I wrote about the time I spent in medical school, where some of the case studies we discussed involved hypothetical scenarios featuring JWs not wanting blood transfusions.