- While the World commemorated the International Nurses Day on May 12, 2017, four-year-old Dyson M’mangisa curled up in a hospital bed at Mulanje District Hospital praying for God to save him from the religion of a paediatric nurse who failed to render to him assistance that was readily available due to her religious beliefs.
Grace Mahata (not real name) is a Jehovah’s Witness nurse and on this particular day she had problems deciding whether administering a blood transfusion to Dyson would not put her in bad terms with her church and her God.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not accept blood transfusion of any kind as their church teaches that God did not aim for blood to be transfused from one person’s body to another.
Mahata who until this day had been in the nursing profession for three years took a long time debating with her conscious whether doing it would disrepute her religious standing, at the expense of the four year old child’s life.
She had not expected that she would be the only duty nurse at Mulanje District Hospital’s paediatric ward on this day when Dyson got admitted due to Malaria and Anaemia, and the Clinician who attended to him prescribed to him a 450 ml pint of blood which he was meant to receive upon arrival at the ward.
According to Dyson’s mother, Sellina M’mangisa, it took over 3 hours before her son received the blood, until the time that the nurse found a workmate to conduct the transfusion on her behalf as she had finally settled that it was against God’s will.
“After the clinician prescribed a transfusion for my son, the duty nurse kept procrastinating. I did not know what the problem was until later when she finally found a friend who was working in the male ward to connect the blood pint to my son’s arm. It puzzled me a lot that I had to follow the other nurse to ask her why the paediatric nurse could not help us in time and I found it hard to believe when she told me that the paediatric nurse could not do it because it was against her religion,” explained M’mangisa who vowed to beat the nurse if anything went wrong with her son.
Among Jehovah’s Witnesses, blood transfusion is despicable; however the question whether Jehovah’s Witness medical personnel can be excused from facilitating blood transfusion has never been clearly addressed in the public domain.
Information from the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania (through the Church’s official website www.jw.org) says God clearly forbids blood transfusion as He commanded us in both the Old and New Testaments to abstain from blood on verses such as Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:10; Deuteronomy 12:23 and Acts 15:28.
“Surgeons regularly perform such complex procedures as heart operations, orthopaedic surgery, and organ transplants without the use of blood and patients, including children, who do not receive transfusions usually fare as well as or better than those who do accept transfusions: In any case, no one can say for certain that a patient will die because of refusing blood or will live because of accepting it,” reads part of a Myth and Fact sheet posted on the website in the year 2016.
The site goes on to add that God views blood as representing life as He says on Leviticus 17:14, so the Witnesses avoid taking blood not only in obedience to God but also out of respect for Him as the only Giver of life.
Asked whether nursing and the whole medical profession exempts individuals with such religious beliefs to hold up their values at the expense of patients’ lives, Nursing Officer at Mulanje District Hospital Gloria Chirombo said the profession does not necessarily accept or prohibit expression of religious beliefs during practice, however one thing that it clearly does is ordering the person in practice to aim at saving lives regardless of other human life extensions.
“When we take the Nurses’ pledge of service we say we will not permit consideration of religion, nationality, race or social standing to intervene between our duty and our patients,” said Chirombo citing from the internationally recognized nurses pledge of service which every nurse makes.
Similarly, Executive Director for the National Organization of Nurses and Midwifes in Malawi (NONM) Dorothy Ngoma believes that nurses and or Clinical Officers who would rather put their religious beliefs in front of saving lives are definitely in the wrong profession.
Said Ngoma; “when one joins the profession they already know what is likely to be involved and what is expected of them, so it is not right for a Nurse or Midwife or indeed any medical personnel to refuse conducting or facilitating blood transfusion because where a blood transfusion is being ordered it means a life is about to be lost.”
She added that medical people who deny facilitating blood transfusion should probably switch professions and go somewhere else where they can practice without contradicting their religious beliefs.
Elsewhere in Phalombe, only a month before the Dyson M’mangisa case emerged, another child, Vanessa Khwale aged 7 faced a different type of violation of her right to receive medical attention/treatment.
When this reporter reached her home, Vanessa was basking in the sun on a traditional sleeping mat outside her father’s house; inwardly asking God to save her from her father’s religion which does not allow her to take medicines.
The girl who looks 5 than 7 had been sick for over seven days, from general body pains, headache and constant fevers.
She is a third born daughter in the family of Mr. and Mrs. Khwale of Mtengo village, Traditional Authority Nkhumba in Phalombe district.
Her family is of devoted members of the New Apostolic Faith church whose followers believe that human beings are not meant to take any medicine when they fall sick, as Jesus Christ already provided them with divine healing through His death on the cross.
Born into a family that holds these beliefs, Vanessa falls into a forced choice of rejecting medical treatment and at her age there is literally nothing she can do about it without the intervention of well-wishing elders who can confront her father on the issue.
However, this only remains her daily wish because such well-wishing non-relations do not exist in the village as no one has the courage to face Mr. Khwale who is well known for his arrogance when it comes to issues concerning his religion.
Neighbours to Vanessa’s family attest that it is not the first time that the little girl and his two siblings had gotten ill for a long period and were kept hidden in the house without getting medical attention.
“Their father is an elder in the church and I must say it has not been a good thing to the kids because time and again they have ended up bearing the consequences of his decisions,” said one neighbour, a Mrs. Muhula.
She added that a few years back one of the two elder kids almost died when she was attacked by pneumonia and the father stood his grounds against going to the hospital until the village chief intervened with a threat that the family would be banished from his area if the child died at home.
Commenting on whether he knew that Vanessa had birth rights, including receiving medical care when she needs it, Khwale who did not show any remorse maintained that their belief as a family was that taking medicines was wrong regardless of rights.
“On 1 Peter 2 verse 24 the Bible says and I quote; He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. End of quote,” said Khwale who appeared to be less concerned about his daughter’s ailment.
A further probe into the matter revealed that in 2015 the family almost perished when a serious Cholera outbreak hit Phalombe and 96 cases were registered by the District Health Office, out of which, one patient died.
Aubrey Masubi a Health Surveillance Assistant (HSA) working in the district confirmed that it took a delegation comprised of representatives from Phalombe District Health Office, Phalombe District Council and the Police to force the Khwale family and fellow members of the church to go to the hospital when the outbreak spread among them.
In the rural areas of this country in which religion is free, it does not need one to walk a long distance or ask a thousand questions to hear stories proving that time and again scores of children are subjected to unnecessary risks and punishments that could claim their lives due to religious beliefs held by both their parents, communities and even the medical personnel who are believed to be there to save lives.
While the constitution of the Republic of Malawi provides for children’s rights on Section 23, subsection 4 which says ‘all children shall be entitled to reasonable maintenance from their parents,’ (which ideally includes good health care and environment) it is sad to note that there are still many children who are not enjoying protection provided by the laws of the land simply because the same constitution provides the right to religion and beliefs on Section 33.
It is against this background that Vanessa and Dyson, who have experienced the worst negative effects of having religious rights, only pray that someday God will save them and the rest of children suffering in silence from religion.