It’s not about you

Religion. Respect. Gotta respect it – religion. Religion, respect, they go together.

A young Jehovah’s Witness has died just hours after giving birth to twins. She had signed a form refusing blood transfusions, and her family would not overrule her. Couldn’t doctors have intervened? If they had, they [might] well have been charged with a criminal offence, and would not have had a legal leg to stand on in court. The UK places great emphasis on respecting the religious convictions of patients – and increasingly the doctors who treat them too. There is nothing medics can do when an adult refuses treatment on religious grounds, says Vivienne Nathanson, head of ethics at the British Medical Association.

Is there anything patients can do when an adult doctor refuses treatment on religious grounds? Sometimes. That dentist who refused treatment to a woman because she wasn’t wearing a hijab got a mild rebuke. But maybe in a few years that will be seen as insensitive – to the dentist. Or maybe not; who knows.

Jehovah’s Witness liaison committees, who advise both doctors and patients on alternative treatments, are now firmly established in many UK hospitals. “We are ever more favourably received – doctors are increasingly sympathetic to needs of the community,” says David Jones, a member of the committee for North Bristol NHS Trust. “We have drawn up detailed care plans for everything from heart surgery to giving birth, including ways to stem postpartum haemorrhage. All hospitals should have access to these.”

Isn’t that heart-warming? Doctors are increasingly sympathetic – isn’t that kind? They’re are increasingly sympathetic to the ‘needs’ of the ‘community’ – the needs of the community to adhere to a ridiculous meaningless arbitrary outmoded pettifogging bit of nonsense from Leviticus. And in order to exercise all this extra and increasing sympathy, doctors and nurses have to absorb piles of detailed care plans that wouldn’t be necessary if the ‘community’ didn’t ‘need’ to adhere to its outmoded bit of nonsense. What a pathetic waste of time and resources, which could be used in better ways. It’s revolting – that smug self-centered self-congratulation on the ability of the ‘community’ to force (by moral pressure) busy doctors and hospitals to pay lots and lots and lots of pointless extra attention to them. I might as well go drop in at the local primary school and demand that everyone there pitch in to make me a ten-course dinner but make sure it’s kosher and haram and vegan and Scientology-appropriate. I’m special, I deserve to usurp everyone’s time and attention, right?

[O]ther countries are not quite as tolerant of mothers’ religious convictions…A young woman in Dublin lost a lot of blood after giving birth to a healthy baby a year ago. A Jehovah’s Witness, she too refused a transfusion. But an emergency ruling permitted the hospital to carry out the procedure, arguing that the right of the newborn baby to have a family life overruled the mother’s right to refuse treatment.

Well, what about that? Why don’t UK hospitals take that into account? Why doesn’t the baby’s need for a mother have to be at least weighed against the mother’s ‘religious convictions’? (Yes, I know, I’m always talking about women’s autonomy, and that’s why I think women should be able to decide not to bear a child they don’t want, but I also think that if they do decide to bear the child, they take on certain responsibilities. That in fact is one reason I think they should be able to decide not to – the responsibilities are very large and potentially very intrusive. Frankly I think they make ‘religious convictions’ look horribly trivial and selfish.)

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