Doctor Treats Helpless Patients
When 27-year-old newlywed Cristina Blouvan-Cervantes, a Jehovah’s Witness, was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, doctors told her she needed an immediate blood transfusion to survive. Cristina refused, because accepting blood is strictly against her religious beliefs.
“Even though they told me, you have 4 or 5 days left to live, it’s like I wasn’t going to do it because it’s a major, major sin,” Cristina said. “I consider it a major sin.”
The “Watchtower,” the religion’s official website, explains that the bible repeatedly warns against consuming blood. They believe that having a blood transfusion, where blood is given intravenously, has the same moral ramifications as eating or drinking it.
But, Cristina had heard of a doctor in Los Angeles who deals specifically with patients who hold her same beliefs – Dr. Michael Lill.
Although Dr. Lill’s treatment isn’t foolproof, and can be extremely risky, he believes it’s worth taking the chance.
“If you don’t treat them, this patient is 100% going to die in six weeks time,” Dr. Lill said. “If you do treat them, they may be 50% likely to die in four weeks time but you have a pretty good chance of getting them into remission and having them alive three years from now.”
He first builds the patients blood count with a mix of medications. Then chemotherapy destroys the cancerous cells. The blood is replenished through the use of stem cell transplants.
Stem cells are unspecialized cells, which can grow to become functional. During the treatment, they grow to become healthy blood cells.
As long as patients are aware of the risks, the treatment is medically ethical. Dr. Lill claims that most doctors don’t criticize, because even though his bloodless program is controversial, it’s better than nothing.
“When you’re treating a cancer patient who’s a Jehovah’s Witness, it’s possible that you may not be able to get the whole treatment in, so that’s substandard treatment,” said oncologist Dr. Patricia Gordon. “And I suspect that substandard treatment is better than no treatment.
Cynthia Hampton, who runs a support group for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Los Angeles that have left the faith, believes Dr. Lill is enabling an unreasonable belief.
“For a religion to ask their people to choose death instead of life?” she questioned. “If I were him, I would do all that I could to educate patients on what the function of blood is and what it really does.”
However, without Dr. Lill’s treatment, Cristina would not be alive today.
“He respected my decision, and he found a way around it,” she said. “He doesn’t agree with it, but that doesn’t matter. I just want to be alive.”
As long as her treatment doesn’t interfere with her faith, Cristina will continue fighting.