Ex-Witness offers counselling service

Eastbourne Herald-Gazette/March 4, 2008

A former Jehovah's Witness, whose father was at the centre of the UK's first legal battle to give him a blood transfusion against his will, has set up an online counselling service from her Jevington home for those who want to leave the controversial religion. Lisa Magdalena, who was brought up in a Jehovah's Witness family that made legal history, is working alongside www.exJW-reunited.co.uk members, giving personal counselling sessions.

In 1971, Lisa's father, Keith Playford, was at the centre of the UK's first legal battle to give a Jehovah's Witness a blood transfusion against their will.

Having suffered severe blood loss following an operation to remove his wisdom teeth, Mr Playford stuck determinedly to Jehovah's Witness teaching forbidding the taking of blood and refused a life-saving transfusion.

Although the hospital concerned won a then unprecedented legal battle to force him to accept blood, it was too late, and he died anyway, leaving Lisa and her sister fatherless.

Now working as a holistic counsellor and living in Jevington, Lisa said, "The Jehovah's Witnesses saw my dad as a saint but I was just two years old when he died and lived a childhood robbed of the chance to really get to know him.

"I never had a dad to be proud of me at school events, watch me graduate, walk down the aisle, see my daughters - his granddaughters - and hold my hand through my divorce and my battle with cancer. I know how difficult it can be for those who are thinking of leaving this religion, for those trying to re-establish their lives after leaving, having to deal with the confusion and countless other after-effects.

"My childhood was racked with trauma and horror. It was an abusive, closed and a cold world to grow up in with no room for self-expression or freedom of thought.

"Mine was a heavy, dogmatic and a fearful childhood."

Despite her father's death, Lisa was still required to go door-knocking locally to seek converts and recalls having doors slammed in her face as people yelled they would never listen to a JW 'because of what happened to that man who refused blood, leaving those little children', not realising they were slamming the door in the face of his daughter.

At the age of 16, Lisa ran away from home and was shunned by her family.

"I had been told that everyone 'in the world,' ie not a Jehovah's Witness, was evil, a 'Satan lover'," said Lisa.

"I had been told that leaving the religion meant eternal death. Facing a new life without my family and living in fear of Armageddon was a horrific double blow, but I knew I couldn't go back to the religion."

Ironically after the birth of her second daughter, Lisa was diagnosed with cancer and underwent two years of gruelling chemotherapy, including a stem cell transplant and nine blood transfusions.

She is now training for a diploma in holistic counselling and a certificate in counselling skills. She also runs a private practice, teaches workshops and courses, is writing a book and works as a course director for the Holistic College of Eastbourne.

"Now, I see my life as a Jehovah's Witness was rooted in emotional blackmail and manipulation," said Lisa.

"I also see the same happening repeatedly with clients who are Jehovah's Witnesses, clients who are considering leaving and those who have already left.

"My job now is to help them and others live life on their own terms, free from the interference of a dogmatic and, I believe, dangerous religion."

"I consider it a real privilege to be able to offer such people safe support and counselling via exJW-reunited.co.uk.

"Significantly, I think I'm particularly well placed to help because people coming to me for counselling won't have to go explain how the Jehovah's Witnesses work, what they believe and so on.

"Having had counselling myself I know this can be a time-consuming process and the issues can be difficult for some counsellors to get to grips with. Because I will already understand much of the background to their stories, I'll be able to meet people right where they are."

The first live online counselling forum will be held between 11.30am and 12.30pm on Monday March 7.

The following is from a Jehovah's Witness website:

Jehovah's Witnesses refuse blood transfusions, including autologous transfusions in which a person has their own blood stored to be used later in a medical procedure, (though some Witnesses will accept autologous procedures such as dialysis or cell salvage in which their blood is not stored) and the use of packed RBCs (red blood cells), WBCs (white blood cells), plasma or platelets.

Many Jehovah's Witnesses carry a signed and witnessed advance directive card absolutely refusing blood and releasing doctors from any liability arising from refusal.

In 2000 the Witnesses changed the rules on blood transfusions so that the Church would no longer take action against a Witness who willingly and without regret underwent a blood transfusion.

This was because the Church had no need to take action; the Witness concerned would no longer be viewed as one of Jehovah's Witnesses because he no longer accepted and followed a core tenet of the faith - ie the act of accepting a blood transfusion stopped a person being a Witness, without any further action by the Church.

If the Witness later changes their mind and repents of their action they can return to the Church.

Of course, if a Witness is transfused against their will, this is not regarded as a sin on the part of the individual. Children who are transfused against their parents' wishes are not rejected or stigmatised in any way.

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