Thursday, August 17, 2006


Iowa's Terry Schiavo?

I first became aware of this situation at the University of Iowa Hospitals on the KGAN 6pm news last night, and the Press-Citizen now has an article up about it.

I'll direct you to the article for details, but the facts will sound quite familiar. Woman in coma. Mother and Father want to do everything possible to keep her alive. Husband says he won't consent (in this case, to a blood transfusion, because he's a Jehovah's Witness and its against his religion). Parties argue about what the woman would want.

Johnson County District Court Judge Marsha M. Beckelman issued a four-page ruling that gave guardianship to the woman's father, rather than her husband. As summarized in the article, and what I recall from the television news, the judge looks at all the evidence, trying to determine whether the woman, Tawnya Nissen, subscribes to the Jehovah's Witnesses beliefs or not. I'm looking for a copy of the ruling, which if I track down, I'll post, but from the sound of it, she decided that it was impossible to know, and thus the court needed to error on the side of protecting life.

Kind of makes you proud that an Iowa judge gets it right. Hopefully the husband will let the issue rest now, but we'll be watching to see if this continues through the court system.

UPDATE: Here's some more background from KWQC in Davenport, including video. There's also an online poll expressing your opinion about the Judge's decision.

UPDATE 2: The Des Moines Register picked up the story this morning with the most exhaustive treatment yet. At least one other blog has also picked it up and is trying to push the story nationally.

The following came into the Johnson County E-mail address. After asking permission, I'm posting it here in the comments.

Dear Johnson County Republicans,

I am writing to protest against Judge Marsha Beckelman's ruling to allow blood transfusions for Jehovah's Witness, Tawnya Nissen.

At age 28 her, and her husband, are quite capable of making their own decisions, from their own free will. The opinion of the father of the patient does not override her own, at age 28.

Having fully consented to become a Jehovah's Witness when she was over the age of consent, means that she does not want any blood, even in the event that she may die without it. That was her own decision to make and no-one, not a judge, nor her father has any right to deny her her own choice in making that declaration.

By becoming a Jehovah's Witness, she made that perfectly clear, that she does not want any blood. The judge and her father should respect her free choice to choose that for herself. It is one of the fundamental beliefs of all Jehovah's Witnesses. A person cannot be a Jehovah's Witness and agree to accepting blood. It is one or the other. Tawnya made her own decision, and she has a right for that decision to be respected.

Jan Brooks, B.A.,
Ancient of Days, U.K.
Thanks for sharing your opinion (and for adding to our international readership!).

The issue in this case, as I understand it, is not whether Jehovah's Witnesses are able to refuse blood. Without a doubt, that is a decision that individuals can make and our laws will respect that right.

The issue here, is whether or not Tawnya had this belief or not. The register story does a better job of describing the record -- and I still hope to make it down to the courthouse to get a full copy of the Judge's Order to post online -- but again, it looks like there was quite a bit of conflicting evidence on each side. You had the fact that she volunteered her time for the church, apparently had said she wouldn't want a blood transfusion before, countered by the fact that she hadn't officially been baptized into the church, had told her sister that she would want transfusions, and the card that she allegedly signed stating her wishes couldn't be found anywhere. Thus, the judge found it impossible to say one way or the other whether she had the belief and decided it was best to error on the side of protecting her life.

In my opinion, that is commendable common sense.

As an aside, what might be interesting as a legal question, is once Tawnya recovers, and if she would actually need a transfusion (which given her health improvement apparently doesn't look likely), whether she would have legal recourse against anyone for giving her a transfusion against her will. My guess is that the judge probably has immunity from suit, but there might be some claim against her father acting as guardian.
hmmmm.... Well stated response, Cornfield....

Nice job...
Aug 24 2006 - JCR

Thank you for mentioning my blog,, in your story.

Does anyone have any updates on Tawnya's condition? The news story seems to have just stopped. I'm most interested in knowing if she can be brought out of the medically induced coma, and if so - when she might be. Any help will be duly noted and attribution given.

Snashin -

The following website summarizes over 250 lawsuits filed by Jehovah's Witnesses against their Employers, and/or incidents involving problem JW Employees:


The following website summarizes 300 U.S. court cases and lawsuits affecting children of Jehovah's Witness Parents, including 100+ cases where the JW Parents refused to consent to life-saving blood transfusions for their dying children:

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