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Georgetown College v. Jones: 1963

Crisis Develops At Georgetown Hospital, Suggestions For Further Reading

Plaintiff: Georgetown College, now known as Georgetown University
Defendant: Jessie E. Jones
Plaintiff Claim: That the courts should overrule Jones' refusal to permit a blood transfusion for his wife, who was being treated in the school's hospital
Chief Defense Lawyers: Ralph H. Deckelbaum and Bernard Margolius
Chief Lawyers for Plaintiff: Peter R. Taft, Harold Ungar, and Edward Bennett Williams
Judge: J. Skelly Wright
Place: Washington, D.C.
Date of Hearing: September 17, 1963
Decision: That the hospital should be allowed to give all necessary blood transfusions

SIGNIFICANCE: Despite the expansion of civil liberties by the courts in the 1960s, the judicial system refused to recognize any right to refuse medical treatment for purely religious reasons.

One of the many Christian religious sects is a group called the Jehovah's Witnesses, which is several centuries old. Followers of the sect believe in the imminent end of the world, and in strictly following the literal words and commands of the Bible. One of these biblical commands is contained in Genesis chapter nine, which states that the consumption of blood is forbidden:

And God went on to bless Noah and his sons and to say to them: "Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth. And a fear of you and a terror of you will continue upon every living creature of the earth and upon every flying creature of the heavens, upon everything that goes moving on the ground, and upon all the fishes of the sea. Into your hand they are now given. Every moving animal that is alive may serve as food for you. As in the case of the green vegetation, I do give it all to you. Only flesh with its soul—its blood—you must not eat."

In keeping with their literalist approach, the Jehovah's Witnesses traditionally would not eat blood sausages or blood puddings. They never had any serious conflicts with the medical profession until the 1940s, when blood transfusions and the technology of blood storage in blood banks became standardized and commonplace. In 1945, a Jehovah's Witness publication called The Watchtower stated that blood transfusions were akin to consuming blood.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972