Those considering legal action against the Watchtower Society (hereafter WTS) may wish to explore the potential for holding them liable for negligently providing inaccurate medical advice. The WTS has placed itself in the role of divinely inspired and spirit directed advisor, counselor and agent as a brief survey of their writings demonstrates:
*** w71 9/1 526 Fortify Yourself So as to Maintain Integrity ***
“Contrary to the advice of the organization of Jehovah’s witnesses…”
*** km 2/84 4 Expanding Your Ministry as a Regular Pioneer ***
“God’s Word and spirit, along with the good advice offered by Jehovah’s organization…”
*** g92 5/22 27 The Truth Has Set Me Free ***
“By applying the therapy along with the good advice from Jehovah’s organization…”
*** g81 10/8 14 The Real Brotherhood of Man Today ***
“Bryan Wilson, professor at Oxford University, England, made a study of “the recent rapid growth” of the Witnesses in Japan. He wrote: “Witnesses offer a wide range of practical advice . . . “
By advising millions of persons on a whole range of issues and more specifically how they should go about selecting acceptable and non-acceptable blood products, the WTS may have created an agency relationship with its members. If this is established, the WTS then owes a fiduciary responsibility towards those who are contractually required by their baptismal vows to look to the WTS as “God’s spirit directed organization” for advice on the use of blood products.
In a fiduciary relationship the WTS would be required to demonstrate loyalty towards its members. This requires their being entirely open and not keeping any information from members that has any bearing on the relationship. It can likely be proven that the WTS has not demonstrated loyalty towards its members and this violates its duty owed to members if they are are legally established as “principals.”
Skill and Care
An agent under these circumstances is under a special duty to exercise more than an ordinary degree of skill and care. Life and death decisions are made based upon the WTS analysis of the scientific and medical facts on the use of blood. As we have shown, the WTS has either misrepresented the facts, or they have negligently failed to carefully research the available scientific literature and have simply provided millions of persons with bad medical advice.
One who advises or acts as an agent on behalf of another must by law make a full disclosure of all the facts. The WTS has not complied with this legal requirement. Time and again they show only those facts that support the current WTS blood policy and they distort or withhold important information that should be available to members facing life and death choices. Additionally, they go so far as to threaten, intimidate and coerce members so that they will not even seek outside information to supplement the medical advice they are receiving from the WTS.
There are other legal theories that could be explored in an action against the WTS such as “undue influence” or moral turpitude (legally wrongful) since they violate the generally held moral standards of most communities, and hence likely qualify as torts (the French word for” wrongs”). The potential for wrongful death cases appears significant and additional research is needed.
In the United States medical information is private and there are complex laws governing its use. The Advance Directive that Jehovah’s Witnesses are asked to sign by the WTS requires doctors and hospitals to share their medical records with the WTS Hospital Liaison Committee (HLC). While we would argue this is a gross violation of doctor patient confidentiality, the WTS would argue this is simply to provide the HLC with relevant information so they can best advise their doctors on how to treat them with WTS approved blood components or alternatives. The simple fact that the WTS takes this extraordinary step makes it clear in our view that Agency Law is applicable.
In cases where the HLC uses their access to confidential medical information to learn that a member has taken an unapproved blood product and then reports the member to the local congregation for investigation, we believe they have violated the HIPPA laws by not limiting their use of the information to the minimum necessary.