Television

Good job with “Bad Blood”: Grey’s Anatomy and Jehovah’s Witnesses

ABC’s hit medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” finds its best religious tone yet in last night’s “Bad Blood” episode.  A patient dies on the table because his Jehovah’s Witness faith prohibits blood transfusions, one intern struggles with the ethics of the situation, and the family is cast as distraught-but-not-crazy in their faithfulness to their beliefs.  Even with the brief time allotted to this storyline amidst a routinely busy episode, Grey’s manages to keep a tricky subject complex and open.

GreysAnatomy_1-31-2013

In the show’s ninth season, as the hospital begins to close its ER doors in preparation to be sold, a boy is brought into the hospital with severe injuries.  The unconscious boy needs surgery, but Dr. Yang (Sandra Oh) is forced to proceed with a “bloodless surgery,” forgoing the use of critically important blood transfusion, because the boy has a Jehovah’s Witness alert tag.

Like the episode correctly portrays, JW faith prohibits blood transfusions.  Grey’s doesn’t take the time to explain that it’s atypical interpretation of Bible passages like Acts 15 and Leviticus 17 that leads to the sect’s belief, but it rightly shows the JW family as devoutly holding to their belief.  It is a defining doctrine of the church, and those who disobey can find themselves excommunicated.

The family, though, was not portrayed as particularly irrational or crazy, which is a refreshing turn in the often oversimplified “conflict” between science and faith.  While no major character expresses agreement or empathy with the religious creed, respect is shown for the belief system.  In fact, viewers were able to at least sympathize with the family, as the actors playing the boy’s parents do a good job of showing the emotional toll of holding to one’s life-threatening faith.

GreysAnatomy_1-31-2013_bIt’s not the show’s job to promote JW beliefs, but it goes a long way toward open dialogue on spirituality when the religious peculiarity is not shown as being held by a bunch of nutcases.  One intern struggles with her medical role, not understanding how to respect a patient’s beliefs when blood transfusions are so routine and so important.  She even tries to sneak in a blood bag, which Yang had already warned could result in assault and battery charges.

Yet again, the show gets it right, pointing not only to the ethical dilemma facing doctors, but also the legal limits that religious faith poses.  Assault charges have been filed by JW patients who received blood transfusions.  In a 1996 case, the Supreme Court of Connecticut set a precedent in Stamford Hospital vs. Vega that a patient’s rights to medical self-determination demands respect for religious beliefs like JWs’.  Again, the episode does not go into these details, but it packs in a wealth quick references to the issue’s many facets while focusing on the broader drama that would keep viewers hooked.

Grey’s Anatomy has a history of provocative religious references, some approached with glossy simplifications, some problematically wrapped up in neat little bows by the end of the episode, but this compelling storyline was well executed.  It even managed to slip in questions about the sincerity of one’s devotion to a family faith and the degree to which people share their religious beliefs with friends.

The episode was complicated, but not over the audience’s head; full of perspectives, but still open for viewer interpretation.  With viewers having their own variety of religious convictions, that seems like a solid approach.

Were you sold on Bad Blood?  Did you think it was more one-sided than it should have been?  Or maybe it should have been more one-sided?  Leave your thoughts in the Comments.

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50 thoughts on “Good job with “Bad Blood”: Grey’s Anatomy and Jehovah’s Witnesses

  1. I did not see the episode but was told about it by a Mormon friend, (I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses). I intend to watch it. However I have experienced 3 major surgeries with blood conservation surgery. I have been hospitalized with anemia and an extremely low blood count and survived with no transfusion. There are many alternatives to a transfusion and in some cases a transfusion even seemingly indicated can do more harm than good. I also take a “blood thinner” daily since I have an artifical heart valve so blood issues are a very real life event for me, not merely an intellectual concept that I may have to deal with sometime. To address the issue of dying for a belief, people are called upon continually to die for a cause and willing to do. Political beliefs have marched millions to the graves. Religious differences have drenched the soils of many nations with blood. So please explain to me why people find it so peculiar that we are willing to die for our religious beliefs? This blood issue is one facet of our beliefs but they are deeply intertwined. For some insight please go to jw.org. For some scientific information on blood go the noblood.org.

    • I’m very happy to hear that you have survived these surgeries and that you posted your experience here. Others need to see that more and more doctors are actually preferring to do bloodless surgery since it has less complications. People are willing to die for their country, die for their spouse but they think it is werid to die for God which He is the ONLY one that can resurrect us. What a joke uh?

    • i just wanted to add that that we {Jehovah’s witnesses} wear pants in the episode all the woman wore skirts, that is another religion that does not wear pants not us. The man praying in the episode also said jesus are lord which is incorrect also. we believe that there is a god whose name is jehovah and jesus which is gods son jesus and god to us are not the same thing they are both different in are religion.

  2. A Morman should not be considered your friend since not a JW. Blood transfusions are a choice now. I am X-JW. Read the book of Romans and you will then understand more about where our hope lives.

    • I appreciate your sentiment regarding a Mormon as a friend. We contintually visit about our respective spiritual beliefs. We see each other once a month for work related issues. During that time we continually have rational discussions regarding society, the inevitabilty of social collapse both from “worldly” point of view as well as a spiritual point of view. Obviously my hope is to have him learn the Truth. So, yes, we do consider each other friends. We have respect for each other and our differing points of view but I focus on what we have in common. I approach it as a Socratic teaching effort, posing himi with questions and trying to put the crumbs before him. We acknowledge our differences religiously but it is also incumbent upon me to maintain a relationship with him as long as he is willing to discuss the issues.

  3. I have been a Jehovah Witness for 40 years.
    I do not know one single person who has died from not having a blood transfusion.
    Not one!

    • What about the Watchtower magazine Awake! May 22, 1994, Youths Who Put God First. That magazine cover is plastered with the faces of martyred children. 26 of them. That’s just a fraction of those who have died. Your own publications prove you wrong.
      The bible’s punishment for not abstaining from blood is to bathe and remain unclean, until sundown (Lev 22) That you can make atonement for it (1 Sam 14:31-35) Only the Watchtower demands human sacrifice.

      • You are so wrong. You are trying to manipulate the readers by putting down a random chapter of the Bible.
        Please read Leviticus 17:10,11 : ‘And whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’
        That rule was so important that the apostles of the first century were guided by the holy spirit to reinforce it for the Christians: ‘ For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.’ (Acts 15:28,29)
        The use of blood was deemed just as serious a sin as sexual immorality. Any rational man will be able to understand whether introducing blood into the body is done by transfusion as it is by consumption.

      • That was referring to blood flow of a woman but the bible is clear about eating blood (since blood transfusions were not inventid till the 1860’s). Lev 7:27

    • Okay, here is one for you. My JW cousin DIED from NOT having a Blood Transfusion. That was in 2006. (Hope this posted under the comment of never knew one single person died of a blood transfusion.)

      • am sorry that you lost your cousin. but it doesnt mean he will survive with blood transfusion. dont trust too much in science, for it failed to save millions.

  4. I was raised in this church. I left this church. I am a mother of 3 children and would NEVER deny my child EVERY SINGLE OPTION AVAILABLE–INCLUDING blood…should the need arise. I don’t believe it is a publishing company’s place to legislate these matters. I have friends who, in the name of JW doctrine, have lost loved ones due to their blood policy. Their policies also have a history of waffling/adjustments made in the name of ‘New Light.’ A JW refusing to accept blood is a way to take a stand for the Watchtower organization. Should a member accept blood, they will become disfellowshipped. I know of a family that did accept blood for their young daughter during her brain surgery. It saved her life. The parents were then ‘disfellowshipped.’ This action should raise a major red flag: Coercive Belief System. Rewards & Punishments. TOXIC. Believer beware.

  5. Cindy – Why parade your ignorance of the foul JW cult of which you are a member? JW blood edicts are murderous!.As Danmera has shown ,form your own mags. JWs are responsible for thousands of unnecessary deaths.

    • Can it be considered a cult when a cult by definition is devoting yourself to a figure or object that other religions also devote themselves to- God? It is every human beings right to decide hat happens to his or her own body, it is no one else’s place to decide that. The problem is society lives in life with ignorance in misunderstood subjects, things they were taught that might not even be true. People should just respect each other. That religion can accept different ways of using blood during surgeries that is their own in cases that blood should be given. In other medical cases to give blood is an easy way out of a situation. There are plenty of hospitals with bloodless programs, that everyone uses not just this religion.

  6. Humans want to survive the obstacles that nature throws in our way. ALL life seeks survival, which is how evolution occurs. Leave it to religion to have life-seeking humans embracing a death-wish!
    The rest of us want to survive… this weird death wish will die with them eventually, as with most sects. And, although I’m the first to say, what a waste of human potential, the rest of us will be none the worse for it. Just one more irrational belief that got tried and failed, at the cost of human life.
    Seriously, any matter of “faith” that wants to involve something as tangible as blood and human flesh ceases to be about “faith” at all.

  7. That Greys episode made me so mad, first of all we do not believe it is “Gods Will” whether someone lives or dies and we do not believe that a miracle will save us if something like this happens. I think it is silly to say that no one has or will die from not having a blood transfusion it is very risky but then so is having a blood transfusion, there are hundreds of people that have become sick from having tainted blood. Fortunately science is now so advanced that there are many ways of undergoing surgeries without a blood transfusion and for anyone reading these comments the best place to go to is the official Jehovahs Witness website http://www.jw.org which answers all your questions regarding blood rather than listening to some bitter apostate ex Jehovahs Witness. There are serious legitimate bible based reasons why we would do something involving ours and our children’s lives it is not something that we take lightly.

  8. Jules, you sound like a well-trained JW. Answering with their cookie-cutter response. I know this cause half of my family are lost in the elder, MS, pioneer fantasy.

    As for me, I am an ex-JW (not bitter, but quite happy, much more so than my JW family members). I also work in a pediatric ICU and as a trained Extracoporeal Cardiac Life Support specialist. Yeah, the ones that run all of a patient’s blood outside their body and and clean it and add more blood and put it back in.

    In your and my family and the 8 guys in NYC I am committing a grave sin. I will be obliterated in your Armageddon. But in real life, we are saving babies, children, teens. We are giving them a chance to exercise their own free will. Unlike what you and the JW organization is doing.

    I get to go home and feel a profound happiness and peace knowing I helped save a life. Much more altruistic than say, thinking you are serving humanity by making sure the 8 guys in NYC know how many hours of service you put in this month?

    So much “new light” (aka “oops, we messed up) in the organization. How will you feel when the “oops, we messed up on the whole blood thing” new light comes out? Cause darling, it will.

    • People get lost in egotism and self-righteousness, that’s the problem with society. The fact that people care so much about other people’s business, it’s their own bodies and they should be able to choose whatever they want to happen to them to be honest. Do you go around telling a Mormon it is stupid they think they can’t drink coffee because of the caffeine? They don’t want to do it; it’s their choice. IF a person feels guilt his or her life for doing something they don’t believe is right and regret, in this case accepting blood when there are other alternatives in many cases- then person moves on with not doing what they know they will regret. People die everyday, in many different ways. We will all die eventually anyway, we cannot choose how someone else lives his or her life because in the end it is not your life. Just my opinion I guess.

    • Are you saying you break the law? That If later in life, something goes wrong and the person has contracted some disease from the blood you’re ‘secretly’ putting in, they can’t even find out what’s wrong because they are unaware you gave them blood ?

    • Viajera77 its funny because I also have that same profound happiness and peace when I find someone out on field who is yearning for the truth and wonders why there are babies, children, teens etc in the hospital in the first place. When you see all these terrible things happen in your ward I wonder what your take on it is?

  9. I think if this issue is to be taken seriously, then they need the portrayal of the family to be much more realistic! Anyone who knows a Jehovah’s Witness knows they don’t speak, act, or look like that. I know quite a few and have some in my extended family, and they don’t go around saying things like “it’s God’s Will” or “Blessed Be” <– they're not Wiccan! lol. And what was with the dress/make-up!! The ones I know look way more modern than that. Anyway.. just my thoughts. I know it's a serious issue, but then present it in the way it really is.. not in a way that is trying to make one side look nutty. *shrug*

  10. I’m one of JWs. I watched the episode and thought, in general, it was fairly ok. It left a lot of unanswered questions and there were quite a few inaccuracies, some of which have already been pointed out in comments here by others. But for those that are bothered, we don’t carry dog-tags that say “Jehovah’s Witness” on them, instead we carry a card that we keep with us (in wallet, purse etc) that says “No Blood” on it and unfolds to reveal a detailed legal document that we fully understand, have customised in line with our conscience and have signed (with a witness present) that specifies treatments that we do and do not accept. Also, we wouldn’t stand around in the waiting area publicly praying out loud drawing attention to ourselves. The family would definitely be praying both individually (in their heads) and collectively in a quiet discreet way, most probably out of view. They would not necessarily be praying for a physical miracle from God, but they would likely be asking for the mental strength to endure the situation and for guidance to make the difficult but correct decisions in the given situation. If anyone wants to know more, please go directly to JW.org. I’d urge you not to bother with any of the other sites listed here. If I were an ex-JW I don’t think that I’d bother to spend my free time slandering the JW’s, let alone go out of my way to create websites and post derogatory comments about them but unfortunately that’s what most of these other sites are (and people call us wierdos).

    • I wish there was a way to like your comment. I am also a JW. I will say at first the episode did upset me with how the portrayl was inaccurate. It also annoys me to come here and read things from “ex witnesses” they say some of the most hurtful things. It does come off as very bitter and its extremely offensive. I find it very interesting how very few question young people putting there lives in danger to fight in wars, but we’re extremist or into some kind of cult because we’d die for our religion. Strange….

    • Loved your comment! I am too a JW, and u said what needed to be said. You are neutral even when you are one of us. If they are so happy? Why spend so much time slendering us? And please people, don’t say because you want to “alert” people or tell the “truth” to the world. Your would not go to a hair dresser to learn about medicine? You will go to a doctor… Well then, if you have questions ask a JW, no some bitter, self proclamed know it all.

      • you also don’t ask a victim of brainwashing to repeat the information they have been “taught” and expect it to be truthful. Or……. Go to their crazy brainwashing gatherings or websites to hear something “factual”

        This episode was very well done, it actually did demonstrate the thinking, appearance and actions of religious members of this organization very well. They view themselves as set apart from everyone else and if you have ever seen one of their many “dramas” they like to create at their yearly conventions the term “praise be” pretty mich shows up in all of them.

        As for why ex-jw’s or “apostates” (such a funny little word that they think has some TERRIBLE meaning and makes us all tremble in our boots) feel the need to comment on the silliness or patheticness of the beleifs…….. Its because we actually have more experience in the field of knowledge of Jehovahs Witnesses than actual current JW’s do. Because we have been on both sides, we see both sides. We can identify and understand why a JW might do something or not AND see the reality of why that decision is crazy or not.

        “Would you go to a hair dresser to learn about medicine? ” i would if he or she had been trained and was a doctor but decided to go a different path……. As opposed to going to a medical student that is so engrossed in medical school and so almighty in their thinking about themselves that they likely have no original thought of their own and instead can only quote from a medical book.

        Yeah……. I would rather go to the person who has had the experience and decided it wasn’t for them, they may be partial on their own feelings towards “medicine” but at least they’re not a brainwashed med student.

        • I’m a witness and my husband is disfellowshipped, and he’s not as salty as you always hear other people are. You choose not to go back or you choose to leave, that’s no one’s fault it was a choice. He’s not angry or lying about things that did or did not happen to him or his family. In fact he has a lot of good memories, he just chooses not to go to meetings anymore. He still believes in what he was taught, he’s not ignorant or angry throwing hateful words at me or his family because of his choice. If you don’t go back then just live your life, do you not think that any person who leaves a religion might disagree with some teachings, that’s why they leave. I know plenty of people I work with who used to be catholic but refuse to continue going because of not having been married in the church, not haven green baptized, etc. who cannot take their communion because of it. I have a cousin who used to practice islam, and she left it for reasons she ended up deciding she disagreed with. People leave a religion for a reason, disagreeing with a teaching. Everyone has their own opinions, but that doesn’t make it factual. Often, people who used to be witnesses come off sounding very much like liberals do in politics “I’m right and you’re wrong without proof.” All because of emotions over powering logic.

    • i like ur comment, im a teen of a jw family and i dont really like it, but taking someones blood is just gross.its like knowin u have someones blood in u, its creppy

      • First and foremost, learn to spell properly, my dear. Second of all, no it is not gross, nor is it creepy. Your blood doesn’t give you your personality traits, it gives your heart the ability to pump, your brain the ability to operate, your limbs the ability to move – it is your life source. Your comment is probably one of the most not-smart things I have ever read.

        • Have you had a transfusion? Do you know what it feels like? It does not always end well, you can feel negative effects. Feeling sick, feeling exhausted, and the transfusion does not always work. When there are alternatives, it seems that to accept blood because it is a common or say choice, does not seem like always the best choice. Personal experience.

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  13. As one of Jehovah’s witnesses I am deeply offended when we are portrayed in a negative light. However they persecuted Jesus and because we follow his commands we are also persecuted.
    This was done in very poor taste.

  14. I am a Jehovah’s Witness and we do prohibit taking blood but many aspects of the Grey’s Anatomy episode were not accurate about my religion and it would be nice if people would ask us about our faith before inaccurately portraying it on television.

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