A `right to die' for Witnesses

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JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES, whose faith forbids them from having blood transfusions, must be allowed the right to die if they do not consent to life- saving treatment, new guidelines for doctors said yesterday.

Anaesthetists, who are responsible for carrying out blood transfusions, were told they have to respect the wishes of Jehovah's Witness patients, even if it meant watching someone's life slip away.

Dr Michael Ward, chairman of the Association of Anaesthetists working party, which drew up the guidelines, says: "Administering blood to a Jehovah's Witness without consent has been likened by the movement to rape.

"It would not result in expulsion from the community but would have a deep psychological effect on the patient." There are an estimated 145,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in the UK and Republic of Ireland. They present an enormous ethical dilemma for doctors because of their powerful belief that accepting another person's blood is a sin. The belief is based on passages in the Bible that forbid the consumption of blood.

The new guidelines were agreed to end the uncertainty over whether a doctor should put a patient's individual wishes or his duty to save life first.

The report points out that to administer blood to a patient who has steadfastly refused to accept it is "unlawful, ethically unacceptable and may lead to criminal and or civil proceedings".