Why did these kids die?

dead kids' pictures on May 22, 1994 AWAKE! cover
"In former times thousands of youths died for putting God first. They are still doing it, only today the drama is played out in hospitals and courtrooms, with blood transfusions the issue."--AWAKE! May 22, 1994, page 2
HANDSOME boys and beautiful smiling girls--"Youths Who Put God First"--brighten the magazine cover, making it an issue easy to place in the hands of unsuspecting millions answering the knock at their door. Only upon opening the May 22, 1994 AWAKE! magazine do readers discover that the appealing photos represent kids who died in obedience to the Watchtower Society's ban on blood transfusions.

Posed together in a group portrait in the foreground of Awake!'s cover are three extremely photogenic youngsters. Fifteen-year-old Adrian Yeatts died September 13, 1993, after the Supreme Court of Newfoundland, Canada, declared him a "mature minor" and rejected the Child Welfare department's request for court-ordered transfusions. Twelve-year-old Lenae Martinez died in California on September 22, 1993, after the Valley Children's Hospital ethics committee ruled her a "mature minor" and decided not to seek a court order.

Twelve-year-old Lisa Kosack died (no date given) in Canada after holding off transfusion therapy by threatening that she "would fight and kick the IV pole down and rip out the IV no matter how much it would hurt, and poke holes in the blood." (page 13)

Did the Watchtower Society actually summon Adrian, Lenae, and Lisa for a group photo session in morbid anticipation of their martyrdom? Evidently not, since each is shown in the identical pose in separate photos with different backgrounds on pages 3, 9, and 12 of the magazine. The group portrait was produced, no doubt, in the photocomposition lab at the sect's Brooklyn headquarters. Individual photos of 23 other attractive youths fill the background on Awake!'s cover. These other youngsters are neither named nor discussed, but the implication is that they too all died refusing blood products.

The feature articles on "Youths Who Put God First" fill the first fifteen pages of the May 22 Awake!--nearly half the issue. More than a third of this space is devoted to handsome, dimple-cheeked Adrian. The story relates cute anecdotes from his early childhood and reveals him to be a sensitive, intelligent, lovable boy anyone would be proud to have as a son.

At age eleven he rescued three orphaned raccoon babies he found alongside the highway and escorted them to a safe home at an animal shelter. The kindness and respect he showed for a mentally challenged girl in his class at school--the butt of other children's jokes--endeared him to the girl's mother. Adrian was fourteen when doctors found a fast-growing tumor in his stomach. A series of autopsies revealed a large lymphoma in his abdomen, plus evidence of leukemia in his bone marrow. Oncologist Dr. Lawrence Jardine at the Dr. Charles A. Janeway Child Health Centre in St. John's, Newfoundland, prescribed aggressive chemotherapy accompanied by blood transfusions. When it became clear that Adrian, at his parents' urging, refused the transfusions, child welfare workers went to court seeking protective custody.

Watchtower lawyers produced a strongly worded signed affidavit from the teenager: "The way that I feel is that if I'm given any blood that will be like raping me, molesting my body. I don't want my body if that happens. I can't live with that. I don't want any treatment if blood is going to be used, even a possibility of it. I'll resist use of blood." On July 19 Justice Robert Wells of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland ruled the boy to be "a mature minor whose wish to receive medical treatment without blood or blood products is to be respected." With only weeks to live, the brave young man fulfilled a few wishes. He visited the Watchtower branch office at Georgetown, Ontario. He went to a Blue Jays baseball game and had his picture taken with part of the team. On September 12 a handful of Jehovah's Witnesses held a special service in the hospital's physiotherapy room and baptized Adrian in one of its steel tanks, thus officially inducting him into membership, and he died the next day.

Why did young Adrian take this course? The AWAKE! article mentions that he "felt that his Biblical hope of eternal life would be threatened" if he agreed to a transfusion. (page 5) Like other JW children he had been taught that death on a hospital bed was to be chosen over "an even graver risk, the risk of losing God's approval by agreeing to a misuse of blood." His parents no doubt followed the organization's instructions to "review these matters with their children" and to "hold practice sessions in which each youth faces questions that might be posed by a judge or a hospital official." (THE WATCHTOWER June 15, 1991, page 15) In other words, Adrian was thoroughly indoctrinated.

Virtually all JW youngsters receive this training to one extent or another, but not all end up in circumstances that require them to go through with it. How many actually do? The caption for Adrian's cover photo states that "thousands of youths died for putting God first" in "former times" and adds that "they are still doing it, only today the drama is played out in hospitals and courtrooms, with blood transfusions the issue." Nowhere, though, do the articles specify exactly which "former times" are referred to. (AWAKE! May 22, 1994, page 2) Nor are any statistics provided on whether the number of Jehovah's Witness youths dying "todayŠwith blood transfusions the issue" similarly runs into the thousands, or not.

1000's died -- May 22, 1994 AWAKE! page 2

Most hospitals and courts nowadays grant adult JWs the freedom to refuse blood products even when it means certain death for them. On the other hand, when the patients are babies or young children, physicians secure court orders almost automatically. A battle continues to rage, however, as the Watchtower Society attempts to persuade medical and legal authorities to view JW kids in the 12-through-17-year-old range as "mature minors" who should be allowed to die.

Courts are caught in a dilemma when faced with ailing youngsters determined to resist blood therapy with whatever strength they are able to muster. Some teenagers and pre-teens are simply repeating well-rehearsed arguments drilled into them at congregation meetings and at family study practice sessions. Others have become persuaded in their own minds that it would be wrong or immoral for them to accept blood products. All know that they face disgrace before their peers, loss of parental approval, and disciplinary action from the organization if they accept the forbidden blood products.

Some doctors hesitate to force blood products on such youngsters for fear that the resulting emotional stress might offset the medical advantages. They do not want to see their patient deprived of needed blood products, but they also hesitate to force a treatment that would leave the youngster feeling violated, polluted, guilt-ridden, and lacking the will to live.

Why, though, are parents willing to sacrifice beloved children on the altar of organizational doctrine? Little meets the eye when outsiders puzzle over the unnatural actions of Witnesses in the hospital or the courtroom. Specially trained JW elders serving on "hospital liaison committees" quickly step in to make the organization's voice heard alongside the patient and his or her family. The elders appeal to the broader issues of patients' rights and personal conscience, but they make no mention of secret Watchtower judicial committees that enforce blood transfusion rulings on JW parents. Doctors and judges are largely unaware of the intense indoctrination Witnesses undergo daily.

In the New Testament account, when confronted with objections against his healing a man who was ill on the Sabbath, Jesus knew that his opponents took a much gentler view of religious restrictions when their own vital interests were at stake, so he asked the Pharisees, "Who of you, if his son or bull falls into a well, will not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?" (Luke 14:5 JW New World Translation) The parallel question to JW parents would be, "Who of you, if his son is bleeding to death, will not immediately give him a transfusion?" Yet, Witness parents in case after case have shown themselves willing to sacrifice the lives of their offspring, as well as their own lives.

Onlookers are troubled when they see eighty people die in a burning cult compound at Waco, Texas, or nearly a thousand ingest a poisoned beverage under the direction of Rev. Jim Jones at Jonestown, Guyana, but we manage somehow to dismiss these incidents with the thought that the world has always had its share of kooks and lunatics. When a hundred or a thousand of them assemble together to perform their lunacy in unison, they grab world attention for a brief time but are soon forgotten. Jehovah's Witnesses, however, deserve closer scrutiny because although their people are just as committed as those who died at Waco and Jonestown, they are not huddled together in a small group in some far off cult compound. More than 12 million people attend JW meetings, and they are living in our neighborhoods, shopping in our stores, sending their kids to school with our kids, working alongside us at our jobs, quietly going about their business in our midst--like a timebomb waiting to go off.

Vaccinations and organ transplants
previously banned, now allowed

During the 1930's and 1940's Watchtower publications denounced vaccination as a procedure that was not only worthless but actually harmful from a medical standpoint, and that was morally wrong from a religious or biblical standpoint. The latter, of course, was the deciding factor for Witnesses. The organization had made clear to them that "Vaccination is a direct violation of the everlasting covenant that God made with Noah after the flood." (GOLDEN AGE [former name of AWAKE! magazine], February 4, 1931, p. 293)

So JWs routinely refused vaccinations for themselves and their children. If the inoculation against smallpox was required for admission to public school, some would have a friendly doctor burn a mark on the child's arm with acid to make it look as if the youngster had been vaccinated. Others went so far as to have papers made out, falsely certifying that the child had been vaccinated. JW publications dropped the ban on vaccinations in the early 1950's, and today they recommend the procedure and credit it with curbing disease.

Jehovah's Witnesses received important new medical instructions in the November 15, 1967, issue of THE WATCHTOWER. An article in the "Questions from Readers" section on pages 702-704 presented a new ruling handed down from Brooklyn headquarters to the effect that "sustaining oneıs life by means of the body or part of the body of another human...would be cannibalism, a practice abhorrent to all civilized people" and condemned by God. The article explained that organ transplants were "simply a shortcut" to cannibalistically chewing and eating human flesh.

This pronouncement, in effect, banned organ transplant operations for Jehovah's Witnesses. No longer could a JW with failing kidneys accept a kidney transplant to keep him or her alive; nor could one losing vision receive a cornea transplant. Bone marrow, skin, or anything else taken from another person could no longer be received in a medical procedure. The transplant issue immediately took its place alongside the blood issue as a life-or-death matter for Witnesses hospitalized for illnesses or accidents.

However, the Watchtower Society's ban on organ transplants lasted only a bit under thirteen years. In 1980 it was quietly repealed. The March 15, 1980, WATCHTOWER said, on page 31, "there is no Biblical command pointedly forbidding the taking in of other human tissue." Recent Watchtower Society publications applaud transplants as procedures that have "helped" people. (AWAKE! August 22, 1989, page 6)

A cult?

Certain studies in the field of psychology have revealed a significantly higher incidence of mental illness among Jehovah's Witnesses compared with the general population. JWs cry "persecution" and dispute such claims. Although featured prominently in the book titled THE FOUR MAJOR CULTS by Anthony A. Hoekema (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publ., 1963) and listed among cultic groups in COMBATTING CULT MIND CONTROL by Steven Hassan (Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 1988) sect leaders deny that label. THE WATCHTOWER of February 15, 1994 acknowledges, "Occasionally, anticult organizations and the media have referred to Jehovahıs Witnesses as a cult" (page 4) but then argues to the contrary.
Children in crisis

In any case, the children of Jehovah's Witnesses carry burdens and face daily stresses not encountered by others. When classmates salute the flag, celebrate a birthday, exchange Valentine cards, or sign up for extracurricular activities after school, JW kids face conflict between personal inclination and their sect's rigid prohibitions. Some obey to the letter, while others live double lives, but all experience inner conflict trying to sort these things out.

Youngsters with both parents in the sect live under constant pressure to meet demands ranging from reciting prepared material before church audiences to selling Watchtower literature from door to door. Those with one non-Witness parent in the home or in a non-custodial visitation relationship hear frequent reminders that this parent belongs to Satan the Devil and faces a violent death at the hands of God's executioners.

What can YOU do?
Professional ethics and legal restrictions usually limit the influence that outsiders can have on the children of Jehovah's Witnesses--no matter how much one's heart goes out to such entrapped youngsters. But there are a few things you can do. -from the tract "Jehovah's Witness Children -- Kids Under Cultic Stess" Copyright © 1995 by David A. Reed

For more information, see the book:

BLOOD ON THE ALTAR: Confessions of a Jehovah's Witness Minister
by David A. Reed
(Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1996)
285 pages hardcover
ISBN 1-57392-059-2

For the first time in decades a major secular publisher produced a new book on Jehovah's Witnesses.

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