Theatrical Spectacle

“The Cruelty of the Kingdom Hall” – Editorial by Michael Abrahams OB/GYN – jamaica-gleaner.com – 6/25/2018

Jehovah’s Witnesses will tell you that the Bible says that you should “abstain from blood”, and their stance against blood transfusion is non-negotiable, despite the fact that the Bible verses they quote refer to the ingestion of blood or its use in rituals.

The utilization of blood, in the form of transfusions, to save the lives of anaemic or haemorrhaging human beings was not on the radar of the biblical writers. Blood transfusions have saved millions of lives. Jehovah’s Witnesses delight in telling us that there are blood substitutes and bloodless surgery techniques. However, there are certain situations where if a person does not get blood, they will die, or suffer permanent damage to organs such as the brain or kidneys.

A colleague of mine, an anaesthetist, related a story to me of an experience she had several years ago that still haunts her. A girl had been rushed into the operating room for emergency surgery after being injured in a motor vehicle accident. She had lost a considerable amount of blood, and despite the use of blood substitutes, monitors indicated that her blood pressure and her oxygen level were falling. A transfusion was necessary to save her life.

Unfortunately, the child was a Jehovah’s Witness. Family and church members turned up at the hospital and congregated outside the operating theatre. Not only did they not consent for the minor to be transfused, they informed my colleague that if the child got any blood, they would have nothing further to do with her. The anaesthetist tried desperately to get a judge to overrule the decision of the gathering, but it was a weekend and she was unsuccessful. She helplessly watched as the child died.

Another practice of Jehovah’s Witnesses that is unsettling and harmful is that of shunning, the fate that would have befallen the child had she been transfused. Members of the organization whose behaviour is deemed to be inappropriate, may not only be dismissed, but shunned as well. Merely deciding to leave the faith can result in shunning. When you are shunned, you are disowned by fellow church members. They will not speak to you. They will not visit you at your house, and you certainly will not be welcome in theirs. It is brutal.

My family recently befriended a woman who is a Jehovah’s Witness. One day, in my kitchen, we had a very interesting and bizarre conversation. She knows that I am not a Christian now, but we are friends. I asked her what would happen to our friendship if I were to become a Jehovah’s Witness, but decide to leave the organization, remain a Christian, and join another denomination. She sternly told me that if that were to happen, we could longer be friends. I asked her if she would still come to my house, and she responded, “Why would I want to do that?” Strange. Very strange.

Shunning a friend is one thing, but Witnesses have shunned family members, some for life. I know a former Witness whose mother did not speak to her for 20 years after she left the organization. I asked my mechanic, a Jehovah’s Witness, about the practice, and remarked how cruel it was. He smiled and said, “It will make them come back”. Not always. Some are guilted into going back, but many suffer severe psychological trauma and spiral into depression. Some become suicidal. Some have attempted it and have been successful.

Relationships are crucial for good health and well-being. Indeed, a 75-year study conducted by Harvard University found that good relationships keep us happier and healthier and are the key to leading fulfilling lives. I do not think that Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that they are being cruel. They are convinced that they are doing what Jehovah wants them to, and this illustrates why religion can be so dangerous, even evil. Once a person of faith believes that their actions are in accordance with God’s will, no matter how unjust or wicked those actions may be, their conscience is undisturbed. The lives, the health, the well-being of others do not matter to them.

The World Health Organization (WHO) definition of health is “A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The Jehovah’s Witness faith poses a threat to all the above mentioned components of health. We are often told to respect the religious beliefs of others, but why should I respect a belief system that jeopardizes the health of my fellow human beings?

Excerpt from “Apostasy director: ‘It was liberating to leave the Jehovah’s Witnesses'” – theguardian.com – 7/15/2018

Making a film is always, at almost any given moment, difficult-verging-on-the-impossible, and Daniel Kokotajlo’s first feature was no exception. His backers were expectant; his budget was miniature; far too many pages of the script over which he had laboured for so long needed to be filmed every single day. And just like any other tyro director, he brought with him all the usual doubts. Why on earth had he insisted on so many locations? What would it be like to give notes to his star, Siobhan Finneran? However, for Kokotajlo, whose quietly controlled screenplay is rooted in his upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness, there were other, deeper things going on, too. It took this gentle, softly spoken man from Tameside, in Manchester, 21 days to shoot his film, and in that time his beard turned, somewhat dramatically, from mostly brown to mostly grey. “I lost loads of hair, as well,” he says, placing a hand ruefully on his head. “When we started, I looked about my age, which is 37. By the time we’d finished, I was 10 years older.”

Every day brought with it the feeling of transgression. “Even before the shoot, this was a subject I was uncomfortable with,” he says. “As Witnesses, we were told to avoid literature that was critical of us. We were made to feel it was almost on the level of being satanic. When I first got hold of one of these books, not long after I left the religion, I was literally shaking with fear – and when I started working on this project, that fear came right back.” Perhaps, though, this anxiety was also useful. One of the more remarkable things about Apostasy – and there are many; it’s hard to imagine a more accomplished debut – is its even-handedness, the way it stirs in the audience sympathy for characters whose beliefs most of us might ordinarily struggle to understand. Kokotajlo nods. “I did feel a pressure to be as accurate and as honest as possible. I didn’t want people still in the religion to be able to say: this is just propaganda. I needed it to be right.” Are Witnesses likely to choose to see it? “That depends. They’ll be advised not to. But if they’re curious, they might. There are the rules, and then there’s what people actually do.”

“$35 million sex-abuse verdict puts spotlight on insular Jehovah’s Witness community” – nbcnews.com – 9/28/2018

A jury ruling this week that the Jehovah’s Witnesses must pay $35 million to a woman who says the church covered up her childhood sexual abuse puts a rare public spotlight on the normally insular religious organization, experts say.

The penalty, handed down by a Montana jury on Wednesday, will go to a 21-year-old woman who accused the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ national organization of telling local clergy members not to report her abuser, a relative who she and another woman say molested them and a third family member. The church plans to appeal.

The case was just one of dozens filed nationwide over the past decade alleging Jehovah’s Witness officials have mishandled sexual abuse of children, including a $13.5 million award by a San Diego judge in 2014 to a man who was abused by a church leader when he was seven years old.

Many of the allegations have surfaced as other religious groups, such as the Catholic church, have wrestled with similar abuse claims. But bringing up such accusations in the Jehovah’s Witness community comes with an extra set of challenges, religious scholars say.

“In terms of reporting complaints or misbehavior or abuse, there’s what they call the ‘two-witness rule,’ which means that, for example, if I were abused, I would need another witness to come forward to corroborate that,” said Mathew Schmalz, an associate professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. “Because of this, it’s very difficult to get corroborating evidence of any kind of abuse complaint.”

The two-witness rule is only for internal modes of discipline and does not prevent a victim from going to the police, Schmalz added.

But the fear of being ostracized from the tight-knit community also prevents members from speaking out.

“There are very strict internal modes of discipline within Jehovah’s Witnesses and I know Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been shunned or what they call disfellowshipped, and that’s an incredibly painful experience,” he said.

Experts say Jehovah’s Witnesses are a misunderstood and very self-enclosed group, despite counting some celebrities among its ranks — including Venus and Serena Williams.

Perhaps best known for going door-to-door to preach their beliefs, the New York-based religion has nearly 8.5 members worldwide — far fewer than the more than 1.2 billion Catholics in the world — and unlike in Catholicism, where bishops are often well-known, prominent figures, Jehovah’s Witness leaders are not typically known to the public.

“They are an eccentric group in the sense that they separate themselves from public life,” said Mark Silk, a professor and the director of the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. “They don’t vote. They don’t celebrate birthdays and holidays. They don’t say the pledge [of allegiance]. They are not just another Christian denomination.”

All of these tenets, plus their other beliefs, stem from a strict, often literal interpretation of the Bible and the belief that the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization is “God’s organization on Earth,” according to Schmalz.

“Whatever belief they have or mode of internal discipline they have, they have a biblical justification for it,” he said.

In keeping with their penchant for privacy, the church issued only a brief, unsigned statement after Wednesday’s verdict, according to the Associated Press.

“Jehovah’s Witnesses abhor child abuse and strive to protect children from such acts. Watchtower is pursuing appellate review,” the Office of Public Information at the World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses said in a statement.

“Truth about Jehovah’s Witness blood transfusions as pregnant teen’s wish rejected” – news.com.au – 9/14/18

A former member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses has lashed out at the church’s teachings after a Victorian teen refused a procedure that could save her life and the life of her unborn baby.

The frail, pregnant teen, who cannot be named, made news last month when a court ruled against her wishes to forego lifesaving help for her baby in the event of a complicated birth. She cited religious reasons.

The 17-year-old former refugee said she would not accept a blood transfusion even if that meant her baby “has to die” because she is a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the religion views receiving foreign blood as a sin.

“If my baby has to die, she has to die,” the teen told doctors at Victoria’s Mercy Hospital, but Supreme Court Justice Cameron Macaulay said the decision would be taken out of her hands.

“I should consider whether she has sufficient understanding and intelligence to enable her to understand fully what is proposed and the consequences of her decision,” he said.

“I form a view about the extent to which her choice is a true reflection of who she really is, and what her beliefs really are, as opposed to the product of other forces.”

Those forces are the hierarchy of the church and its 8.5 million members who would “shun” the teen if she accepted help from doctors in the form of human blood, according to a former member of the church.

News.com.au approached the Jehovah’s Witness church for comment but the church did not respond.

Adam Phillips, an ex-Jehovah’s Witness full-time minister, told news.com.au the teen may be under immense pressure to follow the rules closely, even if it costs her the life of her unborn baby.

“She probably believes that she will not get a resurrection if she takes a blood transfusion and dies,” Mr Phillips said. “And if she does not die, she may be killed by God for that ‘sin’ at Armageddon.”

Mr Phillips said the psychological pressure is huge for such a young girl. He said the consequences for accepting a blood transfusion could be “disfellowshipping” — a punishment he called “the worst any baptised Jehovah’s Witness can receive”.

The teen would likely be “shunned by all her family and friends” and may be “petrified that she will have to fend for herself and her baby alone, without the physical, financial, and emotional support of her congregation”.

He said he agreed with the court’s decision even though Judge Macaulay “probably doesn’t understand just how much mental and emotional anguish the girl is suffering”.

“The baby deserves to live, and the baby deserves a mother who isn’t dead.”

The court last month heard the teen weighed just 44kg when she was 12 weeks pregnant and that doctors considered her to be at an increased risk of haemorrhaging because she is of such small stature.

Dr Jacqueline van Dam gave evidence that the teen is “very quiet and polite and appears to rely on her mother to answer questions”.

She said she informed the teen of the risks of blood loss during labour. The teen responded: “I do not want blood.”

Excerpt from “Jehovah’s Witness abuser quoted scripture while assaulting daughter, royal commission told” – smh.com.au – 7/29/2015

While my father sexually assaulted me, he quoted Bible scriptures and referred to Bible scriptures about being more obedient that he made me put up on my bedroom wall,” she said.

“He said to me while he sexually assaulted me, ‘You have to be more obedient to me’.”

She recalled her father giving her a black eye when he forced the bathroom door off its hinges to get to her, telling the commission that when she raised it with a church elder he laughed it off “as though it was a joke”.

In evidence BCG said she had been raised to believe that “man is head of the house and his wife and children have to obey him and refrain from questioning his authority”.

She had also been taught not to trust those outside the church.

“I thought that ‘worldly people’ … were bad and not to be trusted and they served Satan,” she said.

“Even the prospect of speaking to the police was extremely scary as they were considered to be very bad people.”

She told the commission how she had worked up the courage to tell to church elders about the abuse but they said they could not meet her unless she spoke to her father first.

She described in evidence a meeting where all the elders were male and friends of her father.

“They asked me questions like: ‘Did you enjoy it?’,” she said. “It felt as though they were getting off on what I was telling them.”

She told the commission she was chastised after attempting to commit suicide because “it was a sin against Jehovah”.

In evidence, she said she was also threatened with disfellowship if she reported the abuse to the secular authorities because it “would bring reproach on Jehovah’s name”.

BCG told the commission she voluntarily left the church and contacted police. After three trials, BCH was convicted of multiple sexual offences in jailed for three years in 2004.

“The trials were easy compared to what I had been through with the elders,” BCG said.

“I couldn’t bear the judgment of those around me, the public vilification and ostracism. I wanted to dig a hole and die.”

BCG told the commission she was aware of many others who had been sexually abused by church members.

“I know so many victims of sexual abuse within the church whose fear of repercussion prevents them from coming forward,” she said.

Excerpt from ‘Autobiography of an Apostate’ by Reddit user Ex-dub – August 2018

My last trigger, was really a combination of triggers. My son, that beautiful boy who my life revolves around, about a year and a half ago he confessed some symptoms he had been hiding from me. He had been to the doctor just that week, and the doctor convinced him it was serious (thank you doctor). His condition was worsening. It took many visits, many tests, for a tentative diagnosis. It didn’t take nearly as long for a doctor to order his first blood transfusion.
A few months ago, he was extremely ill, and his doctor hospitalized him. He was so close to not making it. This was a new specialist for him. This doctor told him that he used to work in a hospital that had a very large JW population. The hospital was “dry”, they didn’t use blood. My son’s doctor told him that because of his experience, he had seen how far people could go without and still recover. He considers himself less likely to order transfusions for this reason. However, he also has the experience to know when a person isn’t going to make it, because he has seen it. Even though he is conservative about ordering transfusions, he ordered my son’s second transfusion one day during the hospitalization. Because my kiddo wasn’t going to make it otherwise. He would have died. If we were still witnesses, and my son had that obedience that the watchtower tries to cultivate, he would have died, not once, but twice, for what amounts to the Governing Body’s interpretation of ancient blood rituals. My son has been back home for awhile now. He’s doing great! With his current treatments, he is the healthiest I’ve seen him in two years!

“Australia’s ‘Man With The Golden Arm’ Retires After Saving 2.4 Million Babies” – npr.org – 5/14/2018

James Harrison, an Australian man whose blood contains a rare antibody that can create a treatment that saves babies’ lives, has donated plasma one last time.

Harrison, 81, is now over the age limit for donors — in fact, he hit the cap months ago.

But the Australian Red Cross Blood Service let him donate one last time on Friday. The service estimates that over the course of his life, he has helped save some 2.4 million babies.

Harrison, known as “the man with a golden arm,” has donated blood and plasma regularly for more than six decades, from age 18 to age 81. All told, he donated 1,172 times — 1,162 from his right arm, 10 from his left, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

“I hope it’s a record that somebody breaks,” Harrison told the Blood Service.

Harrison spoke to NPR in 2015 and explained his long history with blood donation. He had a lung removed when he was 14, in a procedure that required multiple blood transfusions:

” ‘I was in the hospital for three months and I had 100 stitches,’ he recalls.

“After receiving 13 units — almost 2 gallons — of donated blood, Harrison knew right away that he wanted to give back.

” ‘I was always looking forward to donating, right from the operation, because I don’t know how many people it took to save my life,’ he says. ‘I never met them, didn’t know them.’ ”

So, as soon as he turned 18, he started donating blood and plasma. He kept it up for years.

Then researchers discovered that his plasma had a property that could save infants’ lives.

When a woman with Rh-negative blood has an Rh-positive fetus, it’s known as Rh incompatibility. Her body can develop an immune reaction that attacks her baby’s blood cells, and those antibodies put future children at risk.

Then, in the 1960s, scientists discovered that the same antibody — Rho(D) immune globulin, also known in Australia as anti-D — can also be used to create a treatment. It saves babies that would otherwise get sick or die.

And Harrison, it just so happens, has anti-D in his bloodstream. A lot of it.

“Very few people have these antibodies in such strong concentrations,” Jemma Falkenmire, of the Australian Red Cross Blood Donor Service, told the Herald. “His body produces a lot of them, and when he donates his body produces more.”

Harrison was happy to hear that he could help save babies’ lives. He switched from giving blood to giving plasma, as often as the service would allow him.

He contributed to treatments for millions of Australian women, including his own daughter.

Today, although researchers are testing methods to make the antibody in a lab, donors who produce the antibody are still the only source for anti-D.

Such donors are rare these days, at least in developed countries. The antibodies are produced naturally by women with Rh incompatibility. But the same treatment that saves babies prevents mothers from developing that immune reaction.

To fill that gap, some Rh-negative men agree to be exposed to Rh-positive blood so they can become donors, either as volunteers or for money.

And a small number of people develop the antibodies after accidentally receiving a transfusion of the wrong kind of blood.

That’s probably what happened to Harrison. And he made the best of the mistake by voluntarily donating life-saving plasma for many years.

Harrison is one of about 200 people in Australia who are known to create the antibody.