This article borrows from chapter seven of “Acquiring Freedom From Fundamentalist Religious Thinking” written by Dieter Parczany (under his pen name Peter Porjohn). The author is a member of the leadership team of AJWRB.
It is not easy for me to write my story, but it is very important for two reasons. First, because it must be demonstrated that under religious influence, a victim can become a person guilty of harming others. Secondly, I want to remain honest in relating my story, and I do not write this for personal justification, or to accuse others for all the damage done. I am not only a victim but in turn blameworthy myself of doing harm. It is true I was unduly influenced, but nobody forced me to become a Jehovah’s Witness. This is why I also have to acknowledge my own guilt and admit it openly.
Of course, I feel victimized by damaging religious influence. My thinking and my life had been dictated and manipulated by a religion that claims to be God’s only organization on earth. This was possible because I was willing to believe it. Being convinced I was “in the truth”, and presumptuous enough to know what God’s will was, I also became guilty of causing damage to others. Yes, others became victims because of me. I can not compensate for most of the damage I have done, and I am embarrassed about things I thought, said and did. It is still saddening and very hurtful for me to think about some of the consequences of my actions.
The death of my son
This is probably the most difficult part of my confession. When my son Manuel was six years old, he became ill. He suffered from a T-cell Non-Hodgkin-Lymphoma. This is a systemic cancer which can affect the whole body, brain and bone marrow. Initially he underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment to the head. For half a year he received this treatment while in the pediatric cancer station of a university clinic, with either his mother or myself always by his side. After this treatment he continued to receive chemotherapy for one and half more years as an outpatient. When he was eight years old he suffered a relapse, and died in our home six weeks later. Qualified personnel from the pediatric cancer clinic were available for him and us throughout the duration of his illness.
At this time small children with Non-Hodgkin-Lymphoma had a 75% chance of survival. My son’s chance of survival was less, as he did not respond well to the beginning of the therapy. As Jehovah’s Witnesses we refused the transfusion of so-called “principle blood particles (primary blood components).” This is why he did not receive the full dosage of cytostatic drugs (substances used in chemotherapy). One side effect of the medication is that thrombocytes (platelets) drop to a life threatening level. Because we refused the transfusion of thrombocytes, the dosage of medication, and the amount of radiation had to be lowered as well.
When a relapse occurs, a bone marrow or stem cell transplantation is usually considered. While Jehovah’s Witnesses do allow bone marrow transplantation, this procedure was out of the question, as the church would not agree to the transfusion of erythrocytes (red blood cells used for the transportation of oxygen). After bone marrow or stem cell transplantation the body cannot produce its own blood for a certain period of time (at that time about ten days). This is why a transfusion of erythrocytes becomes necessary. But taking erythrocytes is not permitted by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Hence, there is a contradiction, one against all logical reasoning because the bone marrow is practically “the factory” of blood. Produced stem cells in the bone marrow are much more similar in consistency to full blood cells than erythrocytes which appear everywhere in the body, like, for example, in urine.
Nobody knows whether our son Manuel would have survived taking full advantage of all the medical options. Shamefully I have to admit that as parents it was more important to make sure that our son would not receive a transfusion of principle blood particles than it was to accept all possible medical treatment for a full 75% chance of victory over cancer. I carry this thought and guilt in my heart always. I believed that obeying a divine law as interpreted by “Jehovah’s organization” was more important than optimal treatment of my little son. I was convinced that we would get him back in the resurrection, and that no permanent damage could be done by his death. I loved my son with the whole heart of a father, and I would have done anything for his happiness, except violate this “divine law” interpreted by men. My tears are falling as I write this, and words cannot fully express what I am feeling.
Being a chairman of a “hospital liaison committee”
By reason of falsely interpreted Bible scriptures, Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse the transfusion of the following blood particles: erythrocytes, leukocytes, thrombocytes and plasma. However, it is permitted to receive all fractions of those blood particles, i.e. hemoglobin, crosupernatent, coagulation factors, albumin, etc. Also permitted are stem cell, bone marrow and organ transplantation. The use of certain surgical methods such as a “cell saver”, which receives the blood and leads it back through closed systems in the body are also allowed. Nonetheless, all these many details and rules are always subject to change. Today somethings are permitted that yesterday would cause someone to be disfellowshipped (excommunicated).
Within the Witness Organization exists a worldwide hospital information service located in the headquarters in the USA, and each of the Branch Offices in different lands. Additionally, there are hospital liaison committees that try to locate doctors sympathetic to the needs of Jehovah’s Witnesses patients, and hospitals who are willing to respect the decisions of these medical professionals in regard to these patients. Members of these hospital liaison committees are called to give counsel, recommendations and information. They are also called upon to act as intermediaries between medical personnel, lawyers, judges and individual Jehovah’s Witnesses.
However, people continue to have health complications, or even die because they decide in favor of the currently accepted knowledge and rules published by a few non-professionals who happen to be members of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Gene Smalley, a senior member of the writing staff and helper of the Governing Body in the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses once told me: “We are submitting problems and suggestions to the Governing Body for a solution or change of rules. Until the majority finally understands, agrees and is willing to vote for change, sometimes this can takes years.” In the meantime people suffer and die.
As chairman of a hospital liaison committee I accumulated much guilt in cooperating and supporting such a preposterous system. Regretfully, as a representative of this religious organization, I defended the official doctrines with all there Pharisaical regulations regarding blood transfusions. I regret that this affected the lives and well-being of many people.
While enjoying an evening at the theater, an “elder” of my former religion recognized me during intermission and approached. He said that many would be happy if I would return to the organization. I expressed my appreciation for his words, which showed his sympathy for me. I explained that returning would be a “step backwards” in my life since in the meantime, I have been able to prove biblically that “the truth” is not true. He answered “You may know more than I do, but I know it for sure, I feel it in my heart that we do have the truth.” I too know this feeling, but it is false and it does not stand up to close examination. One pays a high price in life for this feeling, and I am not willing to pay it any longer.
My spiritual, emotional and physical well-being has become a touchstone for my thoughts and actions. I respect the value of each human being, either as individuals or organized in groups; as long as they do not harm others, but respect the life and dignity of their fellow-men, women and children. It is not my right to look condescendingly on people just because they do not share my opinion or viewpoint. Every human being is in a different stage of spiritual development and frequently, we do not recognize how harmfully we may have been thinking and acting.
I am grateful for people who have been tolerant, forgiving and patient with me despite all the mistakes I made in my past. Although having had the best of intentions, my thinking was narrow-minded for many decades, and I have harmed people because of it. Having had my life consistently determined for me, I was not able to see things clearly, or from a different point of view. My mind was closed to evidence and logical reasoning being convinced I was living “in the truth”. It is my hope that my story will help people who are imprisoned by their way of thinking. I wish them courage, strength, and above all faith in themselves to liberate their souls, and be able to live in harmony with their authentic self.
A very poignant and touching account, Dieter. While I’m confident that you’ll see your son in the resurrection, so much pain could have been avoided but for this ridiculous and Pharisaical interpretation concerning the medical use of blood. So many of our brothers and sisters continue to suffer under the heavy and uncomfortable yoke of the men of the Governing Body.
That’s true! I have my own story.
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I, too had lost a brother at the tender age of eleven. He had passed away at Sick Childrens Hospital in Toronto, On back in the 70’s. A couple of years later my mother had taken her life. What is so sickening about this cult is they will disfellowship you for taking in blood transfusions, take the rest of your family and friends away from you overnight and have the nerve to teach that they are pleasing Jehovah their god when they do this. Not only were two lives taken in my family but I had lost all my family and friends due to questioning this cult. I had no one when I was recovering from being diagnosed with interhepatic cholangiocarcinoma. I almost died. I had two thirds of my liver removed and gallbladder taken out. We had moved into a new area to get away from the elders stalking us. We knew no one in the new area. I was bedridden for a year. The whole time I kept thinking of the family I had lost for good and my so called friends. Life is better now but I have lived through hell as well. I know what your feeling. God bless you for leaving and by the way, I had two blood transfusions. It was hard to get rid of that ingrained cultish guilty feeling and was happy that I was out like a light while getting my life saving juice.
Dieter and commenters,
Words fail to capture my gratitude for your bravery in sharing the stories of these devastating times in your lives and reliving those painful feelings, and for raising awareness in the public. Hopefully I’ll get to see or meet some of you in September for Boots on the Ground 2020 protest at JW HQ, New York. Sending you love, comfort and wishes for healing.