Transfusion Refusal and the Shifting Limits of Multicultural Accommodation

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Abstract

The refusal of blood products by Jehovah’s Witness patients has provoked court proceedings, social science research, and contemporary fiction, all of which emphasize a seemingly intractable conflict between religious and secular ways of being. This article takes a different approach, focusing instead on the space that Witness patients have carved out for their accommodation in a major pediatric research hospital. Using discourse analysis and interview data, I map the way moralizing discourses surrounding Witness families have shifted over the past 70 years alongside advancements in bloodless medicine. I argue that Witnesses have helped to enable their present accommodation and recognition by marshaling particular forms of economic, human, and social capital, and consider whether their success might be attainable by other treatment-resisting patient groups. Thus, this article explores the shifting limits of multicultural accommodation and the conditions that make understanding, collaboration, and compromise possible.

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