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Japan Lawyers to Report on Religion-Based Refusal of Blood Transfusions for Kids

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry

The Jehovah’s Witnesses religious group is continuing to instruct its followers to forbid blood transfusions for their children in violation of health ministry guidelines on preventing harm to children, according to a lawyers’ report that was set to be submitted to the government Monday.

“This is a serious problem involving kids’ lives,” one of the lawyers told reporters.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses organization, which refers to itself as Christian, is headquartered in the United States and is known for refusing transfusions for its members and their offspring based on religious reasons.

The Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry compiled its guidelines in December to enable municipalities to prevent children coming to harm due to religious beliefs. The move came after children of members of religious groups such as the Unification Church — officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification — asked the government to implement relief measures.

The guidelines state that denying children necessary medical treatment, including blood transfusions, is a form of abuse. According to Tokyo Bar Association lawyer Kotaro Tanaka, Jehovah’s Witnesses has been instructing its followers to refuse their children blood transfusions, including during this year. The children are reportedly made to carry an “identification card” that — in the case of an accident or other emergency — informs doctors and others that the card holder wishes to receive medical treatment but not blood transfusions, due to religious reasons.

In January, Tanaka and other lawyers formed a legal team to deal with issues related to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They said they have been contacted by some of the group’s followers expressing concern about the lives of their children.

Following the release of the ministry’s guidelines, the Jehovah’s Witnesses issued a statement, saying, “Parents understand the serious responsibility of passing on their beliefs to their children and teaching them to live according to sound morals.”

In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that a person has a legal right to refuse a blood transfusion based on religious beliefs.

In 2008, however, the Japan Society of Transfusion Medicine and Cell Therapy, and others, issued guidelines saying blood transfusions should be carried out for people younger than 15 when there is a risk to life, even if they or their parents refuse consent.