My Efforts to Make Wise Choices

AS TOLD BY GUSTAVO SISSON

At age 12, although I was deeply involved in swimming, I decided to become a doctor. But about the same time, I began to study the Bible and, as a result, wanted to become a minister. What became of my different ambitions and interests? Were they compatible?

IN 1961, Olive Springate, a missionary of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brazil, began to study the Bible with Mother and me. Because of opposition from Father, a respected medical doctor in Pôrto Alegre, we stopped studying. Yet, Olive kept in touch with us, and in time I recognized the ring of truth in what I had learned. But by then my involvement in swimming had distracted me from spiritual matters.

When I was 19, I met an attractive young woman named Vera Lúcia at the club where I swam, and we started to go out together. Mother spoke to her about our beliefs, and she was interested. So I got in touch with Olive, and she began to study the Bible with us, despite the opposition of Vera Lúcia’s father.

Vera Lúcia continued to study, and she progressed in Bible knowledge. She even started to conduct Bible studies with workers at my swimming club. At the same time, I concentrated on training for the upcoming national swimming competitions.

After we had been studying and attending Christian meetings for over a year, Vera Lúcia’s father began to suspect that something was up. One day when we returned from a meeting, he was waiting and demanded to know where we had been. I replied that we had attended a Christian meeting and that although religion may not be important to him, it was a matter of life and death to us. He gave a sigh and said: “Well, if it is a matter of life and death, I will just have to accept things.” From that day on, his attitude changed, and although he never became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he became a close friend and a companion in times of need.

Making Choices

I had decided to quit competitive swimming after the national championships, but two victories and a Brazilian record for the 400- and  1,500-meter freestyle earned me an invitation to the Pan American Games in Cali, Colombia, in 1970. Even though Vera Lúcia was against my going, I started training for the games.

When I swam well in Cali, the coaches asked if I was willing to train for the Olympics. I thought about my unfinished medical studies and the wonderful truths that I had learned regarding Jehovah’s purposes and gave up all thought of pursuing a career in swimming. From then on, my spiritual progress was rapid. In 1972, the year of the Olympics in Munich, Germany, Vera Lúcia and I symbolized our dedication to Jehovah by water baptism. This encouraged Mother to resume her Bible study, and in time she too was baptized.

After Mother’s baptism, Father’s opposition increased. Finally our family broke up, and since I was still at the university, we had to get by on her small pension and the proceeds from the sale of our home. As a result, Vera and I postponed our wedding. Actually the fine lessons that I had received from Father helped me to make the decisions that I did. He would often say: “Do not be afraid to be different” and, “The majority are not always right.” One of his favorites was, “A man’s worth is measured by what he gives others.”

As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I have been able to put Father’s excellent advice into practice. I was at his bedside when he died in 1986. We had become friends again and respected each other. I believe that he was proud of me, since, like him, I had become a medical doctor.

In the meantime, I had graduated from medical school in 1974. I decided to go into general practice, but later, after giving more thought to the matter, I decided that I could be of more help to my Christian brothers by becoming a surgeon. (Acts 15:28, 29) So I accepted the challenge and spent the next three years training to be a surgeon.

A Challenging Legal Battle

A very sad case in which I was involved was that of a 15-year-old Witness girl who suffered internal bleeding. She was pale and hypotensive but lucid and absolutely firm in her decision not to take blood. After increasing her blood volume, I performed an endoscopy and washed the affected area with chilled saline solution to stop the bleeding. Initially she improved, but 36 hours later, while she was in intensive care, the bleeding suddenly started again. Despite diligent efforts, the doctor on duty was unable to control the bleeding and maintain her blood volume, and the girl died.

When this occurred, the ethics committee suspended my internship and referred my case to the regional medical council. I was charged with violating three articles of the medical code of ethics, which put my medical license at risk and with it my livelihood.

A committee stipulated a 30-day period in which I had to present my written defense. My lawyers prepared legal and constitutional arguments, and I prepared a technical defense with the help of the local Hospital Liaison Committee (HLC), a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses who seek to promote hospital and patient cooperation. At the hearing the instruction committee asked questions mainly about my position as a doctor and as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, my defense was principally based on medical and scientific arguments and on reports by respected surgeons.

The evidence presented confirmed that the patient had refused to accept a blood transfusion and that I had done nothing to influence her to make that decision. The hearing also established that of the four  doctors consulted, I was the only one who had begun some kind of treatment consistent with the patient’s wishes and her medical condition.

My case was then referred to a committee that would vote at a plenary sitting. I made a ten-minute oral defense in which, as in my prior written defense, I focused solely on medical aspects. After hearing me, two committee members mentioned that although I had not used transfusions, the treatment I had prescribed had a solid scientific basis. Another doctor stressed that bloodless treatment is effective and that it has a lower mortality rate. The last councillor said that the point in question was not whether blood transfusions were good medicine or not. The issue was whether a doctor could impose on his patient a treatment that the patient did not want, and the councillor did not think that a doctor had that right. Thus, by a majority of 12 to 2, the councillors voted in favor of dismissing all charges, thereby exonerating me.

Defending a Patient’s Rights

Some medical authorities have obtained court orders to force Witness patients to accept blood transfusions, and occasionally I have presented evidence at court hearings that has helped overturn such orders. One case involved a Witness with swollen blood vessels in his esophagus, a problem that causes serious gastric bleeding. At the time he was hospitalized, he was already very anemic—his hemoglobin count was 4.7 grams per deciliter. * At first, he was not pressured to accept blood, and he received only support treatment.

Then, after a week in the hospital, the patient was surprised to receive a visit from a court officer bearing a transfusion order. By this time his hemoglobin count had risen to 6.4 grams per deciliter, and he was clinically stable. It seems that the judge had based his decision on the first hemoglobin level not on the second, the higher one.

The HLC offered to help. The patient asked me to examine him. I did so and thereafter was successful in placing him in a hospital where he could be treated without blood. At the same time, his lawyers challenged the court’s order to give the patient a blood transfusion.

I was summoned to a hearing before the judge, who asked me about the condition of the patient. During the hearing, she authorized me to continue treating the patient while the merits of the court order were being debated. By the time of the new hearing, the patient had improved and had been discharged from the hospital. When I was called on to testify again, the hospital’s lawyer challenged me to prove that the treatment I had recommended had a scientific basis. To his embarrassment, I produced an article in a medical journal published by the very hospital he was representing, and it recommended such treatment!

When the decision was handed down, we were delighted to hear that our position of relying on medical treatment other than blood transfusions had been vindicated. The hospital was ordered to pay all costs, including legal expenses. Although the hospital appealed, it lost again.

Caring for Our Family

Ever since I became a Witness, I have had Vera Lúcia’s support as a devoted companion and as a capable wife and exemplary mother of our children. How has she managed to face all the challenges, maintaining our home and helping to care for the children, now high-spirited youths? This has been possible because of her deep love for Jehovah and the Christian ministry.

 As parents, we have taught our children Bible doctrines and principles since they were very young. Despite leading a busy life, we strive to serve in the full-time ministry for a few months each year. And we do our best to stick to a schedule that includes reading the Bible regularly, discussing a Bible text each day, and sharing our beliefs with others in the Christian ministry. In recent times our family has frequently conducted as many as 12 Bible studies weekly with people who are not Witnesses.

Vera Lúcia and I also try to involve our sons in our activities while, at the same time, respecting their personal tastes. We believe that three basic things are necessary for parents to care properly for their family. First, the right teaching, based on God’s Word, the Bible. Second, the right example, which gives children clear evidence that their parents have a healthy fear of God. And third, the right association with Christians of all age groups and social conditions, who can transmit a variety of gifts and abilities to family members. As a couple, we have made it our goal to provide our family with these things.

Looking back on our nearly 30 years of serving Jehovah, my wife and I can say that, without a doubt, he has given us the best in life and provided many pleasures and blessings. Although I did not make it to the Olympics, I still enjoy swimming several miles a week. True, my being a doctor as well as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses has resulted in an extra-busy life, but I have found it very rewarding to help my Christian brothers and sisters to persevere in their service to God in the face of trials.

Often I am asked if it concerns me that I will lose my job when God’s new system comes and there is no more sickness. I reply that I will be the first to jump with joy when ‘the lame one climbs up just as a stag does, the tongue of the speechless one cries out in gladness,’ and ‘no resident says: “I am sick.”’—Isaiah 33:24; 35:6.

[Footnote]

^ par. 21 A healthy adult male has a hemoglobin level of approximately 15 grams per deciliter.

[Picture on page 15]

Operating on a patient

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With Vera Lúcia, and our family study