[FOUNTAIN]Reconciling duty to God and CaesarIn 2001, an 11-month-old baby arrived at a hospital in Seoul in an ambulance. The baby, with congenital cirrhosis of the liver, was in critical condition and needed a liver transplant. The operation would require blood transfusions, but the mother of the patient refused to agree to the procedure on religious grounds.
The medical staff decided to do an autologous blood transfusion, a method of using the patient’s own blood. The case was the first successful liver transplant surgery using autologous blood transfusions here.
The mother who refused the regular transfusion was a Jehovah’s Witness. Founded by 20-year-old Charles Russell in 1872 in Pennsylvania, the religion began as the International Bible Students’ Association, and it has been known as Jehovah’s Witnesses since 1931. The Jehovah’s Witnesses refer themselves as the “watchtower” of the Bible and emphasized its power. The religion was introduced into Korea in 1912. The “watchtower” tends to literally interpret the Bible and does not believe in the divinity of Jesus. Inevitably, the religious ideas of Jehovah’s Witnesses collide with traditional Christianity.
The medical world is concerned about the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They believe that accepting blood through mouth or vein is against the law of God, based on a few verses in the Bible, such as Genesis 9:4, “You must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.” They also refuse to receive blood components such as red and white blood cells. Even the patient’s own blood cannot be used for a transfusion if the blood was taken in advance and was stored. Medical researchers began to seek alternatives that would not go against those beliefs.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses also refuse to bear arms and serve in the military, based on verses in 2 Corinthians and Romans that prohibit killing. The belief is a problem in countries with obligatory military service. Recently, a court here acquitted three men who refused military service, stirring up controversy. In the confrontation with the North, it would be unfair to give Jehovah’s Witnesses alternative options to serving in the military.
But the state cannot altogether ignore the dispute over freedom of conscience. What we need is the kind of solution that the autologous blood transfusion provided for the medical problem.
by Lee Kyu-youn
The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.