In response to the commotion caused by the death of Chilean woman who was a Jehovah’s Witness and refused a blood transfusion, Bishop Alejandro Goic of Rancagua explained that “respecting the conscience of each person” does not override the duty “to safeguard respect for life.”
Bishop Goic, who is president of the Bishops’ Conference of Chile, lamented the death of Edith Morales, a 52 year-old Chilean woman who died in Rancagua of leukemia after refusing to receive blood transfusions, which she said went against her religious beliefs, despite efforts by her family members to persuade her to accept them.
Bishop Goic expressed condolences to her family members and noted that Morales “belonged to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who totally reject blood transfusions as a means of treatment.” Their belief, he said, is based on their interpretation of some passages in the Old Testament which prohibit blood transfusions.
“What do we say about these interpretations? Jesus Christ taught us that the old prohibitions of food have no meaning in the New Covenant. ‘The Kingdom of God is not a matter of food or drink, but of justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Rom. 14:17). It is not clear how the Jehovah’s Witnesses deduce from the prohibition against eating the blood of animals in the Old Testament the prohibition against blood transfusions that are precisely aimed to save human life,” the bishop said.
“The Catholic Church accepts transfusions,” he emphasized. “The Sacred Scriptures are not opposed to this kind of therapy that, on the other hand, was unknown in the times of Jesus. Jesus Christ teaches us that giving one’s life for others is the greatest show of love,” Bishop Goic said.
“In the vision of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, there are three important elements to consider: religious freedoms, respect for consciences and laws,” he added.
“For the Catholic Church, the position of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is what we call one of an erroneous conscience. That is, they believe something that is mistaken. This is part of their profound convictions, and therefore it merits respect in their decision making. Religious freedom invites us to respect the conscience of each person. What we must safeguard is the respect for life. In response to this, many laws dealing with minors in danger of death allow for the will of the parents to be overridden, not because children have more rights than parents, but because their lives are in jeopardy (Spain, Canada, to name of few).”
“God is the God of life. For Jesus life is something precious and ‘saving a life’ prevails over the law of the Sabbath (Mark 3:4), because ‘God is not a God of the dead but of the living’(Mark 12:27),” Bishop Goic stressed. “We are followers of Jesus Christ. In the example of Christ, we can give our lives out of love of neighbor. ‘No one has greater love than he who lays down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13). Therefore, we strongly affirm ‘life, always’,” the bishop said.