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Oncologist. 2002;7(4):371-80.

Faith, identity, and leukemia: when blood products are not an option.

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Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology-Oncology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.


Shortly before his death in 1995, Kenneth B. Schwartz, a cancer patient at Massachusetts General Hospital, founded the Kenneth B. Schwartz Center. The Schwartz Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and advancing compassionate health care delivery, which provides hope to the patient, support to caregivers, and sustenance to the healing process. The center sponsors the Schwartz Center Rounds, a monthly multidisciplinary forum where caregivers reflect on important psychosocial issues faced by patients, their families, and their caregivers and gain insight and support from fellow staff members. When a competent adult patient refuses lifesaving treatment for religious or personal reasons, caregivers have a legal obligation to respect this decision. A patient's refusal of treatment adds particular challenges to the delivery of compassionate care. The case of a 50-year-old Jehovah's Witness with acute myelocytic leukemia who declined blood product support is presented. Respecting her religious beliefs during chemotherapy required balancing risk and benefit, watching her suffer while unable to intervene with what the staff saw as simple treatment, and eventually undertaking a complicated grief process. Jehovah's Witness beliefs regarding blood products are reviewed. Caregiver roles and responsibilities are discussed in the context of psychosocial, legal, familial, and ethical issues.

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