Criticism of 'Totalitarian Methods'
Jehovah's Witnesses Winning Battle for Church Status in Germany
June 10, 2009
By Matthias Bartsch, Andrea Brandt and Simone Kaiser

Several German states are trying to prevent the Jehovah's Witnesses from gaining the same offical status as the main church faiths. But they're unlikely to succeed after the group, controversial because of what former members call "totalitarian methods," won a landmark court case in Berlin.

Marina J. could still be alive today. Her small daughter would have had a mother and her widower wouldn't be a single father. A blood transfusion could have saved her.

On July 3, 2008, Marina J.'s husband took her to the hospital in the town of Lich in the western German state of Hesse. She was 29 years old, the mother of a seven-year-old daughter and a deeply devout member of the Jehovah's Witness church. The doctors diagnosed her with a miscarriage and strong bleeding. A blood transfusion could have been saved her life, but the woman insisted she didn't want one. She was accompanied by several members of her church and she showed the doctor a living will. Two days later, Marina J. was dead.

Prosecutors in Giessen, a city in Hesse, are researching the case to see if it is possible to pursue criminal charges. The case of a woman whose life could have been saved has also attracted the attention of politicians and government representatives in state capitals in western Germany. They are hoping the death might provide new ammunition in a two-decades old dispute between the state and the Jehovah's Witnesses. Followers of the religion, close to 166,000 in Germany, believe the end is near for this world of sin. But they also believe that there are only 144,000 places available in heaven for a few chosen ones who proved to be particularly pious and true to the bible in life. People, for example, who distribute God's word by handing out copies of the Jehovah's Witnesses magazine, Watchtower, on the streets.

For years, the Jehovah's Witnesses have been seeking to obtain legal recognition as a church from the German government so that they can enjoy the same rights and privileges as the Catholic and Protestant churches.

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