A woman who almost died when she refused a blood transfusion after giving birth to twins has described her distress at the case of Emma Gough, 22, the Jehovah’s Witness for whom the decision was fatal.
Rachel Underhill, 32, remembers eight years ago being persuaded to tick the form refusing blood treatment by elders of the religion after she was admitted to hospital for an emergency Caesarean section when she went into premature labour with her babies in the breech position.
“I can even remember the anaesthetist waving her arms up and down saying, ‘Do you realise you are going to die, do you realise you are going to leave your babies motherless?’. I was terrified. But because of the religion I was brought up in, because of what I had been told to do, and because I was not in a fit mental state to change my mind, I refused to accept blood.”
Her babies, one of whom has cerebral palsy as a result of being ten weeks premature, were kept in the special baby care unit for six weeks. Rachel survived only after massive injections of iron and a diet of beetroot to restore her haemoglobin levels.
It was only three years later, when elders at her Kingdom Hall refused to let her use disabled parking privileges to make it easier to bring her daughters to church, that she finally plucked up the courage to leave the religion. She brought about her own “disfellowshipping” by fabricating an adulterous affair, which got her out of both the religion and her unhappy marriage.
Now engaged to someone else and running a successful business with 70 offices nationwide, she has set up a website for others suffering for the faith and attempting to leave. The site gets 8,000 hits a day.
Ms Underhilll told The Times that she was “chilled” by the story of Emma Gough, who died within a few hours of having twins after refusing a blood transfusion, because “that could so easily have been me”.
She said: “It was de’ja` vu, my own story came flooding back to me all over again and I realised just how lucky I am to be alive. It was so like my own story she could have been me — a young mum, recently married. I feel so very sorry for her and her family.
“I also feel angry because this could all have been avoided if only the Jehovah’s Witnesses would recognise how out of date and out of touch they are with other Christians on this matter, and change their policy. Instead, another person has died.
– Four Dangers of the Jehovah’s Witness Organization
“I suspect the Jehovah’s Witness Hospital Liaison Committee was there when she went, ensuring she did not have a transfusion, offering an alternative, in this case useless suggestions, stipulating to her and her husband what should and should not be done, instead of letting medics do the job they are supposed to do — save lives.”
Mr Underhill said that the hierarchy should change its policy but also called for the law to be changed to ensure this does not happen again.
“Hospitals can override parents’ wishes when it comes to treatment of Jehovah’s Witness children,” she said. “The same should be true of Jehovah’s Witness adults. They should be allowed to administer a transfusion without fear of censure or legal action. After all, one day, like me, that person may see the light, leave the Jehovah’s Witnesses and be grateful.
“I’ve just seen my own daughter — who has cerebral palsy — have a five-hour bowel and bladder operation. I was told she may need a blood transfusion and I was overjoyed to be able to sign the consent form saying the hospital could treat her in any way they felt best.
“If I had still been a Jehovah’s Witness, the situation would have been very different and I find that shocking.”
To vist Rachel Underhill’s website, go to www.exJW-reunited.com