Worldwide Reports

Neurosurgical procedures in Jehovah's Witnesses: an increased risk?

Suess S | Neurosurgery |
Free University of Berlin
Berlin, Germany

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Abstract
OBJECTIVE

Because of the growing numbers of members worldwide in the sect of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the refusal of blood and blood products due to religious reasons is increasingly encountered in clinical practice. As an alternative to blood transfusion, Jehovah’s Witnesses accept blood-free volume substitution, and they sometimes accept the intraoperative reinfusion of autologous blood via a so-called cell saver. The aim of this study was to examine whether the refusal of blood transfusion affects the surgical indications for neurosurgery and whether morbidity and mortality rates are higher after neurosurgical interventions in Jehovah’s Witnesses.

METHODS

The pre-, intra-, and postoperative hemoglobin and hematocrit values as well as coagulation parameters of a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses (n = 103) were compared with those of a valid control group.

RESULTS

The total intraoperative blood loss during spinal and intracranial surgery in Jehovah’s Witnesses was often less than in controls, which suggests a less traumatic surgical procedure. Hemodynamically relevant blood loss occurred in two spinal and four intracranial interventions. The patients were managed without receiving blood transfusions or blood products, although increased time in the intensive care unit and increased convalescence days were necessary. Mean surgical times were 17.5 minutes longer for spinal interventions and 36.7 minutes longer for intracranial interventions than for patients in the control group. This may be attributed to a more careful and thus slower surgical technique and to longer and more extensive hemostasis. The length of hospitalization was 15% longer for Jehovah’s Witnesses than for controls.

CONCLUSION

The morbidity and mortality rates for Jehovah’s Witnesses undergoing neurosurgery were not higher than those of the control group. Thus, it can be concluded that Jehovah’s Witnesses did not have a higher risk when microsurgical techniques and extensive anesthetic monitoring were applied during neurosurgery. Because the surgical success rate for Jehovah’s Witnesses corresponded to that of the control group, the increase in costs because of longer treatment times is compensated in the long run by avoiding a lengthier illness, sometimes with more expensive conservative therapy.

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