Jehovah's Witnesses & Blood Transfusions
Jehovah's Witnesses are permitted most forms of medical treatment, but under no circumstances must they ever have a blood transfusion. Abstaining from blood is considered an area that identifies them as the only true religion.1 What is generally unknown is that over its history the Watchtower Society has made a virtual 360 degree turn on their acceptance of blood products.
The result is a stance that is:
- Scripturally Inaccurate - Most Christian religions recognise that there is no scriptural prohibition on
Christians transfusing blood.
- Inconsistent - The Watchtower states God's standard is that blood must not be stored,
yet allows Jehovah's Witnesses to use blood fractions derived from stored blood.
- Double Standard - Jehovah's Witnesses use significant quantities of medical products derived from blood,
but are forbidden from donating blood.
Just as the Watchtower revoked its ruling that organ transplants are wrong in the 1980's, over the last few years it has made significant changes to the acceptable use of blood. Every Jehovah's Witness should seriously consider the implications of the Watchtower making such life and death doctrinal changes before deciding to refuse blood, when lives are at stake.
The information contained here presents the Watchtower blood stance as of March 2015. Considering the changes that have occurred over the last decade, and the ongoing legal difficulties being experienced by the Watchtower Society, there will likely be more easing up in coming years.
This article looks at the history of Watchtower blood doctrine and compares the current stance with Scriptural blood requirements, including:
- Pikuach Nefesh - Life overrides Law
- The current Watchtower position
- The changing Watchtower stance
- Biblical laws on blood
- Acts15 - Abstain from Blood?
- Rights of Children
- View of the Medical Fraternity
Scriptural Issues with Watchtower Stance Summarised
The Watchtower stance on blood is Scripturally inaccurate on several levels:
1. The Rabbinic principle of Pikuach Nefesh (appealed to by Jesus at Mat 12:11) dictates that the Law be superseded if it would result in loss of life
2. The Bible refers to eating blood from animals killed for food, not blood transfusions that do not result in the death of the donor.
3. Paul showed that the prohibitions at Acts 15 were only binding when it would result in stumbling (See 1 Corinthians 8)
The following table identifies the inconsistent Watchtower history regarding blood.
Can these contradictory changes really be attributed to Jehovah's direction?
Inconsistencies with Current Blood Policy Summarised
The Watchtower is inconsistent in allowing blood fractions. This is readily apparent when considering the following.
"Jehovahs Witnesses do not accept transfusions of whole blood or the four primary components of blood namely, red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma. They also do not donate or store their own blood for transfusion." Kingdom Ministry Nov 2006 p.3
"Beyond that, when it comes to fractions of any of the primary components, each Christian, after careful and prayerful meditation, must conscientiously decide for himself." Watchtower 2000 Jun 15 p.31
1. If it is wrong for a Witness to donate blood, who do the blood fractions they use come from?
2. If blood must be poured on the ground, where are the blood fractions they use derived from?
3. If abstaining from blood does not allow taking a "major" fraction, why does it allow a fraction of a fraction?
4. If blood fractions were always acceptable to Jehovah, who is responsible for the Witnesses that needlessly died refusing them, due to Watchtower policy forbidding them prior to the year 2000?
Throughout this article it will be shown the Bible identifies respect for life as important to God. The reason the Noahide and Mosaic Law's stipulated bleeding an animal was out of respect for the life taken. Jesus shed blood at death was the ultimate gift, given to purchase the everlasting life of mankind.
Quite opposite to this Bible principle, the Watchtower Society admits that their stand against blood transfusions has led to the death of Jehovah's Witnesses, even showcasing images of 26 Witness children that died refusing blood.2
"Jehovah's witnesses do not argue that blood transfusions have not kept alive patients who otherwise might have died." Blood, Medicine and The Law of God p.38
"In former times thousands of youths died for putting God first. They are still doing it, only today the drama is played out in hospitals and courtrooms, with blood transfusions the issue." Awake! 1994 May 22 p.2
Watchtower publications claim that it is wrong to attempt to save life through a blood transfusion, as this risks forfeiting everlasting life.
"As Christian witnesses of Jehovah, her parents, Darrell and Rhoda Labrenz, correctly viewed blood transfusion as a violation of God's law and thus opposed it. They were concerned about their baby's eternal welfare, for everlasting life is the prospect only of those adhering to God's laws." Yearbook 1975 p.224
"But suppose one's wife or child were near death. Giving blood, no matter who the loved one might be, would still constitute a violation of God's law. Just because one is near death, this does not give one liberty to break God's commands. When one is near death is no time to tamper with or violate the law of God, but a time to draw as near as possible to God by remaining faithful. Everlasting life is the reward for faithfulness. How foolish it would be to gamble away the prospect of life eternal for the very uncertain promise of a cure by blood transfusion!" Watchtower 1970 Apr 15 p.249
"What if a Christian is badly injured or is in need of major surgery? Suppose doctors say that he must have a blood transfusion or he will die. Or course, the Christian would not want to die... Would a Christian break God's law just to stay alive a little longer in this system of things? Jesus said: "Whoever wants to save his soul [or, life] will lose it; but whoever loses his soul for my sake will find it." (Matthew 16:25) We do not want to die. But if we tried to save our present life by breaking God's law, we would be in danger of losing everlasting life." What Does The Bible Really Teach (2005) pp.130-131
Do these statements indicate the Watchtower stance on blood shows respect for life? Compare them with what God wants.
Matthew 12:7 "However, if YOU had understood what this means, 'I want mercy, and not sacrifice,' YOU would not have condemned the guiltless ones."
Forbidding blood transfusions is an example of legalistic Western minds formulating doctrine without an understanding of the native spirit behind ancient Eastern Biblical texts. A blood transfusion is not the same as eating blood. For one, blood transfusions do not involve digesting blood. Secondly, blood transfusions do not result in the death of the donor. Biblical commands on blood, such as given to Noah at Genesis 9:4 was that the blood was to be poured out of a slaughtered animal. Blood law was given to show respect for life during the ritual of killing for food.
It is pertinent that Jews are allowed to have blood transfusions. Strict Orthodox Jews soak meat in water, salt it and then drain it in order to draw out all the blood. Yet no Jewish groups forbid blood transfusions. (Likewise, Muslims forbidden to drink blood are allowed transfusions as a life-saving procedure.) This is because Jewish kosher probation's are waived in regards to life-saving medical use. Sustaining life overrules the Mosaic Law; a principle referred to as pikuach nefesh.
Jesus showed that Christians are to follow this principle when he healed and harvested on the Sabbath. He used David as an example to show that that acts of mercy, such as saving a life, are more important than strict adherence to regulation. Watchtower shows it understands that mercy was one of the most important aspects of the Law.
“For example, consider the account at Mark 5:25-34. (Read.) A woman with a flow of blood made her way through a crowd, touched Jesus’ garment, and was healed. She was unclean under the Law, so she should not have touched anyone. (Lev. 15:25-27) But Jesus—who discerned that “the weightier matters of the Law” included “mercy and faithfulness”—did not chastise her for touching his garment. (Matt. 23:23) Instead, he kindly said: “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed from your grievous sickness.” How touching that Jesus’ discernment moved him to show such kindness.” Watchtower 2015 Feb 15 p.13
Yet when it comes to life or death situations involving blood, Watchtower inconsistently allows no mercy for its' followers. Consider other Scriptural examples, less weighty than saving a life, where mercy superseded strict adherence to the Law;
Matthew 12:11 "Who will be the man among YOU that has one sheep and, if this falls into a pit on the sabbath, will not get hold of it and lift it out? All considered, of how much more worth is a man than a sheep!"
Mark 3:4-5 "Next he said to them: "Is it lawful on the sabbath to do a good deed or to do a bad deed, to save or to kill a soul?" But they kept silent. And after looking around upon them with indignation, being thoroughly grieved at the insensibility of their hearts, he said to the man: "Stretch out your hand." And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored." - see also Luke 6:7-10
Matthew 12:1-4, NW: "At that season Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath. His disciples got hungry and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. At seeing this the Pharisees said to him: 'Look! your disciples are doing what it is not lawful to do on the sabbath.' He said to them: 'Have you not read what David did when he and the men with him got hungry? How he entered into the house of God and they ate the loaves of presentation, food it was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those with him, but for the priests only?'" In these verses and in the ones following Jesus was calling attention to acts of mercy on the sabbath day, that it was perfectly legitimate to render a show of mercy to one who is in need even though it was the sabbath, and that there is, in effect, no violation of the sabbath by such course of action. He had no rebuke for David's course." - see also Mark 2:23-26" Watchtower 1952 Sep 15 p.575
In these situations Jesus invoked the rabbinic principle of pikuach nefesh; that the obligation to save life supersedes Jewish law.
"According to pikuach nefesh a person must do everything in their power to save the life of another, even donate bodily organs. Ovaday Yosef, the former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, ruled that one may donate an organ to a person in critical need, so long as it does not put the donor's life at risk. It is also permissible to travel on Shabbat to save a person's life. Maimonides declared that a Jew should take the individual, even if a gentile is present, in order to encourage "compassion, loving-kindness and peace in the world" (Mishneh Torah, 2:3). The laws of the Sabbath may be suspended to provide any necessary medical care to a critically ill individual or to an individual in the likelihood of danger to life." Pikuach Nefesh, Ariel Scheib (Apr 22 2007) (jewishvirtuallibrary.org)
As respect for life is the most important issue for a Bible student, blood should be transfused in life-and-death situations. This raises the question, "is a blood transfusion ever necessary to sustain life?"
Blood transfusions are essential at times to sustain life. There is merit in not taking blood in many medical situations, just as there is merit in not taking antibiotics for every illness. Just as antibiotics have been harmfully over prescribed so has the use of blood. However, antibiotics are essential in certain life and death situations, as is blood. Non-blood volume expanders are as yet not able to substitute for the oxygen carrying capabilities of red blood cells. When red blood cell count becomes low your organs suffocate and die from lack of oxygen; in this situation survival demands a blood transfusion.
The Watchtower Society conceded to the Australian Parliament that blood transfusions are at times essential to save lives. In the Hansard Committee, Vin Toole, representing the legal department of the Australian Branch of the Watchtower Society, makes such an admission.
"What we have said is that there may well be circumstances arise where it does become an absolute life and death issue." aph.gov.au as at 27th May 2006
When Watchtower articles say that surgery can be performed without blood they divert the readers' attention from the fact that there are circumstances where blood is absolutely necessary to survive. In these situations Jehovah's Witnesses should have freedom to choose the most appropriate treatment for their own bodies. The essay Jehovah's Witnesses, Blood Transfusions, and the Tort of Misrepresentation by Kerry Louderback-Wood, presents the important finding that the Watchtower has been less than honest in its presentation on information about blood transfusions;
"The Society's main resource regarding its blood policy, "How Can Blood Save Your Life?" ("pamphlet"), teaches both Witnesses and interested persons about the religion's blood prohibition. In addition to giving the Society's religious interpretation, the pamphlet relies on quotes from historians, scientists, and medical professionals to bolster its no-blood position. This essay will first discuss the pamphlet's misrepresentations of these secular writers and the availability of private action suits for persons harmed when a religious organization misrepresents secular facts."
Louderback-Wood provides examples of Watchtower publications being selective in the information presented to its members in regards to the dangers of accepting or refusing blood, going as far as to misquote in order to lead Jehovah's Witnesses to an inaccurate understanding of the necessity for blood. It is one thing to demand a follower to strictly obey a Churches specific interpretation of doctrine, but quite another to be dishonest in the portrayal of medical information. Followers have a right to informed consent.
The Apostles had no physiology manuals. They made no distinction between blood components. Blood referred to just that; blood. No distinction was made to allow for the separation of blood into fractions, allowing the consumption of one blood component and not another. Biblical blood law was not about nit picking but respect for life.
The current Watchtower position to allow blood fractions is unscriptural and inaccurate. To justify what these major components are the 2004 Watchtower article contains the following quote;
"The 2001 textbook Emergency Care, under "Composition of the Blood," stated: "The blood is made up of several components: plasma, red and white blood cells, and platelets." Thus, in line with medical facts, Witnesses refuse transfusions of whole blood or of any of its four primary components."
The book the Society chose to use as a reference is not a medical textbook and is a simplification of the major components of blood. As shown in Medical textbooks such as Modern Blood Banking and Transfusion Practices by Denise M. Harmening, Ph.D., the major components of blood can be considered to include;
"Red blood cells, RBC Aliquots, Leukocyte-reduced red blood cells, frozen - deglycerolized red blood cells, platelet concentrate, single donor plasma, cryoprecipitated antihemophilic factor, granulocyte concentrates, factor VIII concentrate, porcine factor VIII, factor IX concentrate (Prothrombin Complex), immune serum globulin, normal serum albumin, plasma protein fraction, Rho(D) immunoglobulin, antithrombin III concentrate."
Since 2000, Jehovah's Witnesses have been allowed to transfuse many of these blood factors. For instance, whereas white blood cells compose less than 1% of the volume of blood allowed serum proteins compose 6%. Hemoglobin is an allowed component makes up over 15% of the volume of blood. Quite startling, once broken down into fractions a Witness can transfuse 100% of blood.
Acceptable blood fractions as a % of total blood volume
The Watchtower attempts to create a semblance of logic to its allowance of blood fractions by presenting the concept that blood consists of four primary "components". Use of these components is unchristian but when these components are broken into "fractions" their use is acceptable. (w04 6/15 p. 21)
This Watchtower distinction of fractions from components is used to make it appear that a component is somehow different and hence more of a violation when used than a fraction. This is flawed reasoning because a component is a fraction, these are interchangeable terms. Many medical texts refer to red and white blood cells as fractions. Likewise, text books discuss the breakdown of plasma into components.
The following 2007 letter to a Witness requesting an explanation of this stance shows how the Watchtower Society uses deception to justify why fractions are now allowed.
It attempts to make its position appear to have been consistent; which it clearly has not been. Furthermore, blood does not settle into four primary components. This only occurs after being put through a centrifuge with additives.
The classification the Watchtower uses of blood being composed of the four primary fractions of plasma, red cells, white cells and platelets is a common one. It is accurate, albeit a basic simplification that has arisen from what results when blood is processed through a centrifuge. The result is:
- buffy coat - white cells (leukocytes) and platelets
- red cells (erythrocytes).
This classification is only one of many ways to describe blood. Blood is alternatively classified as being made of four major components of plasma, fat globules, chemicals and gas - with red and white cells being considered fractions of plasma. (mcghealth.org May 24 2008)
Alternatively, "blood consist of cellular material (99% red blood cells, with white blood cells and platelets making up the remainder), water, amino acids, proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, hormones, vitamins, electrolytes, dissolved gases, and cellular wastes." (chemistry.about.com May 24 2008)
Simply put, blood plasma is a liquid made up of water, red cells, white cells, platelets, proteins, glucose, mineral ions, hormones, carbon dioxide, immunoglobulins, growth factors, albumin, plus a host of other substances.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are not permitted to use white blood cells (leukocytes). This is an illogical position, and leukocytes should be permitted by using the same reasoning that allows other fractions.
Rather than a major component, leukocytes only constitute 1% of the volume of blood. White blood cells are classified into different types, including neutrophil, eosinophil, basophil, lymphocyte, and monocyte. Each type has distinct form and function, and constitutes just a fraction of one percent of blood.
A mother naturally transfuses white blood cells to her child when breastfeeding. These leukocytes form in bone marrow, and are transferred to the mammary gland via the lymphatic vessels. Colostrum, the initial breast milk that a mother provides her newborn infant, contains several hundred thousand white blood cells per millileter, which are important in building the child’s immune system.
See www.nature.com and wikipedia.org (24th May 2014)
Watchtower discussion that blood comprises four components is deceptive; as their use of this definition is to make it appear breaking a component into a fraction becomes acceptable. In reality, many of the allowed "fractions" are suspended in the plasma in much the same manner "components" such as red cells are suspended in plasma.
For example, the hierarchal system the Watchtower presents is intended for it to appear that a platelet is more offensive to God than Immunoglobulin. However, in reality these are both components suspended in the plasma, and whilst "acceptable" immunoglobulin composes 1.7%, platelets compose only 0.5% of the volume of blood.
The Bible writers were unaware of any of these definitions. Blood was not separated by a centrifuge. Blood was simply regarded as blood. To contain some semblance of logic, the Watchtower should either allow blood use, or not allow it - in any form. If it wishes to disallow whole blood but (somewhat illogically) allow blood fractions, then all fractions should be considered acceptable, including red and white cells.
The 4 major components used is an arbitrary measure. Some medical books list just 2 major components, Red blood cells and Plasma. If the Watchtower chose the definition of 2 major components it could then allow White Blood cells and platelets. Other sources list 16 major components; if chosen this would then disallow several fractions now allowed. Other sources divide blood by chemical composition which would totally change again what is allowed. The WTS has used an arbitrary definition, resulting in an arbitrary result. The only way to have a coherent doctrine is to have an all or nothing policy.
"Fake Blood, Real Controversy" by Randy Dotinga discusses products that are made from blood fractions that Jehovah's Witnesses are now allowed to transfuse.
"PolyHeme and Hemopure, by Massachusetts-based Biopure -- are in the final phases of research. Hemopure, used in surgeries, is made from cow blood, while PolyHeme is derived from hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells There's another benefit, too, one that has gotten little attention. While the Jehovah's Witness church discourages transfusions due to the biblical stricture against the consumption of blood, it has given its 1 million American members leeway to accept products that are not derived from the major components of blood." (wired.com 6th Apr 2004)
The above article shows that Jehovah's Witnesses are able to transfuse products derived from both human and animal blood. Dotinga's article went on to clears up the Witness misconception that they are the reason non blood substitutes have been created. Non blood substitutes have been developed since the turn of the 1900's, before the Witness stance on blood came into affect. The reason they are necessary is that blood is generally in short supply, is not "compatible with all people, and can not be stored for long periods (donated blood expires after 42 days) and transmits disease. Much effort is going into developing true non blood substitute to solve these issues.
The Watchtower blood issue supposedly centres on the sacredness of blood. The Watchtower 1961 Sep 15 p.559 stated that "Whether whole or fractional, one's own or someone else's, transfused or injected, it is wrong." Blood was not be eaten or transfused but poured on the ground out of respect for God and his gift of life. If this is so, how can the Watchtower now consider the use of blood fractions and blood substitutes such as Hemopure as acceptable? The taking of large quantities of blood and processing it into components for later use shows less sanctity for blood than a blood transfusion.
Consider the logic behind the latest concept that a minor fraction is acceptable but a major one is not. At Genesis 3:3 God forbade Eve from eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge.
"'But as for [eating] of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, God has said, 'YOU must not eat from it, no, YOU must not touch it that YOU do not die.'"
Would Jehovah have considered it acceptable if she had just nibbled on the peel, or fractionated it and partaken of the juice, or somehow just extracted the Vitamin C?
Acts 15:29 also says to abstain from "things strangled". Using Watchtower logic that a fraction of blood is acceptable, a fraction of a strangled animal would also be acceptable, including byproducts such as tallow or protein meal. This is clearly bypassing the intended meaning of the passage and could hardly be considered to be abstaining from things strangled.
The 2008 Australian Blood Card requires Witnesses to tick which blood fractions and medical procedures they are or are not willing to accept. This includes dialisis, epidural blood patch, plasmaphersis, labelling or tagging and platelet gel. Do you think when Luke penned Acts chapter 15 he ever imagined his words would be legislated in such intricate detail?
The 2000 stance is akin to changing Acts 15:29 to saying,
"keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood, [that is; whole blood and four fractionated components,
namely red cells, white cells, platelets and plasma. However, one may freely partake of other components
or the aforementioned components provided they have been further fractionated, unless your conscience should
disallow these too.] and from things strangled ..."
Watchtower Justification of its Stance
Jehovah's Witnesses come under tremendous criticism for applying their stand on blood to blood transfusions. The Bible never mentions blood transfusions but the Watchtower reasons that if blood cannot be eaten, then it must follow that it would be equally disrespectful to transfuse it. As will be shown, much of the reasoning the Watchtower has used in regards to transfusions is inaccurate, with the result being an inconsistent stance on how blood may or may not be used.
The reasoning originally given to support why blood transfusions were banned was that it was a nutrient in the same way that food is.
"Each time the prohibition of blood is mentioned in the Scriptures it is in connection with taking it as food, and so it is as a nutrient that we are concerned with in its being forbidden." Watchtower 1958 Sep 15 p.575
Blood is not a nutrient. Blood transfusions do not nourish the body and this is not the reason a patient is given a transfusion. Blood is used as a volume expander and to carry oxygen. The Watchtower now understands this and no longer uses this incorrect reasoning. However, rather than change the prohibition on blood a new line of reasoning started to be used. To link blood transfusions with eating blood the Watchtower now uses the following illustration.
"Consider a man who is told by his doctor that he must abstain from alcohol. Would he be obedient if he quit drinking alcohol but had it put directly into his veins?" Reasoning from the Scriptures p.73
Medical professionals find this argument is also illogical. Although an alcoholic is advised not to drink alcohol, it would not prevent a doctor administering alcohol based medicine in case of a medical emergency. Furthermore, when blood is introduced directly into the veins as a transfusion it circulates and functions as blood. Similarly, when a person orally ingests alcohol it is absorbed as alcohol into the bloodstream. Alcohol is not broken down by the stomach and for this reason it is the same as injecting it directly. On the other hand, orally eaten blood when digested does not enter the circulation as blood, but is broken down into simple components.
A blood transfusion is actually a cellular organ transplant and organ transplants are permitted by the Watchtower Society. To show how irrelevant the illustration is, consider it when put another way;
"Consider a man who is told by his doctor that he must abstain from meat. Would he be obedient if he quit eating meat but accepted a kidney transplant?" (Source www.ajwrb.org/history/index.shtml)
A more important line of reasoning against blood transfusions is that the Bible says blood was not to be stored but poured out onto the ground. For this reason even using ones own stored blood for a transfusion is said to be wrong. (Watchtower 1959 October 15 p.640, Watchtower 2000 October 15 p.31) Though this reasoning is partially sound, it highlights how grossly inconsistent the Watchtower standard has become. This reasoning is used to prevent a Jehovah's Witness:
- donating blood
- transfusing blood
- transfusing four of bloods fractions (red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and plasma)
However, a Jehovah's Witness is able to have blood taken and stored for blood tests. Vaccines cultivated in stored blood are allowed. Many types of blood fractions, manufactured from stored blood, are allowed and medical treatments derived from large quantities of stored blood are permitted.
To indicate just how inconsistent this standard is, it is worth considering immunoglobulin injections, which are now allowed to be used by Witnesses. (Awake! of Dec. 8, 1994) Immunoglobulin injections are used as replacement therapy in people whose body does not produce enough immune globulin or to treat people who have not been immunized against certain viral infections such as hepatitis A and measles. It takes about 3 litres of blood to get enough gamma globulin for one injection. The blood is taken from a pooled blood supply, as antibodies to these diseases are likely to be in the pool if enough samples have been added together. According to the IDF Patient/Family Handbook p.76;
"Blood is collected from as many as 60,000 people, and then pooled together. The first step in gamma globulin production is to spin the blood to remove all red and white blood cells. Then, the gamma globulins are chemically purified from the liquid plasma in a series of steps involving treatment with alcohol. This process results in the purification of antibodies of the immunoglobulin G (IgG) class, but only trace amounts of IgA and IgM remain in the final fraction."
It is very difficult to understand the double standard that the Watchtower has created here. On the one hand blood is said to be so sacred that it must not be stored, but poured onto the ground. Even someone's own blood must not be stored for just a few hours and then transfused back during the operation. Certain blood components are also not allowed to be used, such as white blood cells which make up less than 1% of the volume of blood. On the other hand the Watchtower sees nothing wrong with using medication made from mixing and storing the blood of 60,000 people together. If blood is so sacred that it can not be stored for a transfusion then the storing of blood and processing it into fractions should also be disallowed.
Some illustrations help explain the inconsistency of allowing blood components but not full blood. If stealing and reselling a car is a crime, would it be any less of a crime if the thief took the car apart and sold only components of it? Or when God told Adam and Eve not to eat of Tree of Knowledge, would they have been justified if they cut it up and made it into jam prior to eating it?
This double standard has also led to Jehovah's Witnesses taking from society something that they are not prepared to give back. Jehovah's Witnesses refuse to donate blood for the benefit of other people, but they partake of the medical benefits that arise from the donated blood supply freely for themselves.
With a lack of consistent reasoning on which to base its blood transfusion doctrine, the Watchtower consistently relies on fear as a motivator to abstain from blood. A number of Watchtower articles instil fear of blood into the average Witness. A look at the Watchtower Index shows a preoccupation with topics relating to the danger of blood transfusions, blood being contaminated with AIDS, fungus and hepatitis and blood being big business. Consider the following statements;
"The blood in any person is in reality the person himself. ... poisons due to personal living, eating and drinking habits ... The poisons that produce the impulse to commit suicide, murder, or steal are in the blood. Moral insanity, sexual perversions, repression, inferiority complexes, petty crimes - these often follow in the wake of blood transfusion." Watchtower 1961 Sep 1 p.564
"Frequently, in connection with attempts to force transfusions on the children of Jehovah's Witnesses, great public hostility has been whipped up by the press. In some instances, even without a legal hearing at which the parents could speak, judges have ordered that their children be transfused. In more than 40 cases in Canada, however, the transfused children were returned dead to their parents." Jehovah's Witnesses-Proclaimers of God's Kingdom p.184
"But Jehovah's Witnesses believe that to be transfused . . . [may] result in eternal damnation." How Blood Can Save Your Life p.31
The Watchtower goes as far as to claim that their law against blood transfusions has been vindicated. The vindication is said to be because blood transfusions pass on disease and that the body rejects it as a foreign organ. This has particularly been stated since the outbreak of AIDS. (Watchtower Jun 15 1985 p.30) This is a contradictory position because what it fails to mention is that Witnesses have contracted AIDS from Factor VIII and IX transfusions, an allowed blood component. It also overlooks that a Witness can have an organ transplant even though this also holds dangers of disease and rejection.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses are directed by God's holy spirit and since they have stated that blood transfusions are wrong, then it is Gods will to reject it. An examination of the ongoing history of this teaching gives little evidence of holy direction. Not only have there been significant changes in what is acceptable, the current stance is illogical.
Originally Jehovah's Witnesses were allowed vaccinations, transplants and blood. At various points in time during the 1900's Jehovah's Witnesses were forbidden all of the above. Now all of these are allowed once again in some shape or form. Though full blood transfusions and major blood fractions are still forbidden, technically 100% of the blood components are now allowed to be transfused in their broken down parts.
Until 1927, the Watchtower Society understood that Biblical laws against blood were not binding on Christians. Russell accepted the generally agreed theological understanding on this matter, including that the prohibition at Acts was not binding on Christians and was only observed in the first century to keep peace between Jews and Gentiles.
"He further suggested writing to them merely that they abstain from pollutions of idols, i.e., from meats offered to idols (verse 29), and from things strangled and from blood - as by eating such things they might become stumbling blocks to their Jewish brethren (See 1 Cor. 8:4-13)- and from fornication. ... It will be noticed that nothing is said about keeping the Ten Commandments, nor any part of the Jewish law. It was evidently taken for granted that having received the spirit of Christ the new law of love would be a general regulation for them. The things mentioned were merely to guard against stumbling themselves or becoming-stumbling blocks to others." Watch Tower 1892 Nov 15 pp.350-351
"These prohibitions had never come to the Gentiles, because they had never been under the Law Covenant; but so deeply rooted were the Jewish ideas on this subject that it was necessary to the peace of the church that the Gentiles should observe this matter also.
(1) Abstain from sacrifices to idols;
(2) and from blood,
(3) and from things strangled:
It is our opinion, therefore that these items thus superadded to law of love should be observed by all spiritual Israelites as representing the divine will." Watch Tower 1909 Apr 15 pp.116-117
Eating blood was not banned until 1927, under the guidance of Rutherford. The Watchtower 1927 Dec p.371 made the claim that the Covenant with Noah was everlasting and forbid the eating of blood.
""At the same time God entered into a covenant with Noah, which covenant included every living creature; and that covenant is designated by the Lord: "The everlasting covenant."… God told Noah that every living creature should be meat unto him; but that he must not eat the blood, because the life is in the blood."
If the doctrine on blood is such a critical doctrine, one must wonder why God would wait so many decades before revealing it as such through the Watchtower.
How seriously should a person take the medical teachings of the Watchtower from the 1920's and 30's? This was the period of time when the editor of the Golden Age, Woodworth, made the claims that "Medicine originated in demonology" and condemned vaccinations, women cutting their hair, chewing gum, using aluminium pots and eating breakfast - See Medical Changes.
The Watchtower 1945 Jul 1, pp.199-200 contained the first discussion that God's prohibition also applying to human blood. It included mention of blood transfusions, though not directly forbidding them.
It was not until the 1950's that the Watchtower specifically outlined its censorship of blood transfusions , over 80 years after the commencement of the Watchtower Society. The Watchtower did not wait so many decades to introduce this decree because blood transfusions were a new invention. In fact, the Watchtower 1945 Jul 1 had quoted Volume 4 of The Encyclopedia Americana, Revised Edition of 1929, stating:
"Transfusions of blood dates as far back as the time of the ancient Egyptians. The earliest reported case is that practiced on Pope Innocent VIII in 1492. … It was in the end of the 18th and in the beginning of the 19th century that the most active work in establishing transfusion as a surgical procedure after haemorrhage was done."
Blood transfusions were successfully used to treat humans in the early 1800's. ABO blood types had been identified in 1930 and the first Blood Bank was established in 1932. (bloodbook.com/trans-history.html Oct 2008) By "the 1940's, scientists had begun to separate blood into its components." (Awake1990 Oct 22 p.4)
In 1951 it was clarified in great detail that a Witness must not use blood in any form, but it remained a conscience matter and was not a disfellowshipping offence.
"However, congregations have never been instructed to disfellowship those who voluntarily take blood transfusions or approve them. We let the judgment of such violators of Gods law concerning the sacredness of blood remain with Jehovah, the Supreme Judge." Watchtower 1958 Aug 1 p.478
Beginning with the Watchtower 1961 Jan 15 pp.63-64, blood transfusions became a disfellowshipping offence, highlighting the importance this doctrine had become to the Watchtower Society.
"Beginning in 1961 any who ignored the divine requirement, accepted blood transfusions, and manifested an unrepentant attitude were disfellowshipped from the congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses." Jehovah's Witnesses-Proclaimers of God's Kingdom pp.183-184
This applies to a Jehovah's Witness that consumes or transfuses blood or a parent that allows their children to have a blood transfusion. This is despite the New Testament never listing consumption of blood as a reason for expulsion from the congregation.
Vaccinations were originally acceptable.
1921 - From 1921, a series of articles were presented in the Golden Age describing vaccinations as against God's everlasting covenant. (Golden Age 1921 Oct 12 p.17; 1931 Feb 4 p.293) See Medical Advice - Vaccinations
1952 - After 30 years the Watchtower Society returned to its original position, once again allowing vaccinations. (Watchtower 1952 Dec 15 p.764)
Organ transplants were originally described as "wonderful and useful." (Awake! 1949 Dec 22 p.20)
1967 - Transplants forbidden to Witnesses as cannibalism. This continued to be the case through the 1970's. (Watchtower 1967 Nov 15 pp.702-704)
1980 - The Society overturned the decision and transplants became acceptable once again. (Watchtower 1980 Mar 15 p.31)
Initially blood could be eaten. (Watchtower 1892 Nov 15 pp.349-352, Watchtower 1909 Apr 15 pp.116-117)
1927 - Blood was no longer to be eaten (Watchtower 1927 December p.371)
1954 - Unacceptable.
"We are told that it takes one and a third pints of whole blood to get enough of the blood protein or "fraction" known as gamma globulin for one injection... its being made of whole blood places it in the same category as blood transfusions as far as Jehovah's prohibition of taking blood into the system is concerned." Awake! 1954 Jan 8 p.24
1958 - Acceptable (Watchtower 1958 Sep 15 p.575)
1963 - Unacceptable (Watchtower 1963 Feb 15 p.124)
1965 - Acceptable (Watchtower 1964 Nov 15 pp.680-3)
1974 - Conscience matter (Watchtower 1974 Jun 1 p.352)
1972 - Unacceptable.
"The Journal of the American Medical Association, dated Nov 15, 1971, described a procedure for open-heart surgery that employs "sever hemodilution." Early in the operation a large quantity of blood is drawn off into a plastic blood bag. Though the bag is left connected to the patient by a tube, the removed and stored blood is no longer circulating in the patient's system. It is replaced with a plasma volume expander, which dilutes the blood remaining in the veins and which gradually dissipates during the operative procedure. Near the conclusion of the operation the blood storage bag is elevated, and the stored blood is reinfused into the patient. The New York Times of Nov 9, 1971, reported on a somewhat similar procedure whereby some days before one undergoes surgery as much as four pints of blood are removed and stored. During the operation the person's own stored blood is transfused back into him, thus avoiding the danger of disease and mismatched blood. These techniques are noteworthy to Christians, since they run counter to God's Word. The Bible shows that blood is not to be taken out of a body, stored and then later reused." Awake! 1972 Apr 8 p.30
1982 - Objectionable.
"Techniques for intraoperative collection or hemodilution that involve blood storage are objectionable to them." Awake! 1982 Jun 22 p.25
1983 - Acceptable.
"It is with this in mind, and not just to honor the requests of Jehovah's Witnesses, that Denton Cooley [of Houston, Texas] has performed open-heart operations now for over seven years, limiting transfusions wherever possible by substituting hemodilution, diluting the patient's blood with a glucose and heparin solution." Awake! 1983 Mar 22 p.16
Originally Allowed. Blood transfusions and donating blood for transfusion is commended (Golden Age 1925 July 29 p.683, Golden Age 1929 May 1 p.502, Consolation 1940 December 25 p.19)
1945 - Forbidden. Blood transfusions first stated as wrong (Watchtower 1945 July 1 p.198-201)
1961 - Became a disfellowshipping offence (Watchtower 1961 Jan 15 pp.63-64)
In 1961 it was clearly specified that blood law applies to both whole blood and components of blood such as blood fractions and haemoglobin.
"If you have reason to believe that a certain product contains blood or a blood fraction if the label says that certain tablets contain hemoglobin this is from blood...a Christian knows, without asking, that he should avoid such a preparation. Watchtower 1961 Nov 1 p.669
Gradually becoming allowed again
1982 - Blood components are listed with some minor components allowed. Major components and hemodilution are forbidden. (Awake! 1982 Jun 22 p.25)
1995 - Acute Normovolemic Hemodilution (ANH) and autologous blood salvage procedure (Cell Saver) are acceptable despite being briefly stored outside the blood. (Watchtower 1995 August 1 p.30)
2000 - Major change to blood policy, with all of blood now being allowed when converted to minor fractions.
"...when it comes to fractions of any of the primary components, each Christian, after careful and prayerful meditation, must conscientiously decide for himself." Watchtower 2000 Jun 15 pp.29-31
The Watchtower 2004 Jun 15 pp.19-23 contains a detailed discussion on blood, and includes a chart to shows graphically that transfusions of whole blood and 'major' components are forbidden. 'Major' components are shown to be red cells, white cells, plasma and platelets. However, fractions of these four components may be used.
In other words, when blood is broken down into small enough components 100% of it can be transfused by a Jehovah's Witness.
"Keep Yourselves in God's Love" (2008) p.216
Haemoglobin is what makes blood blood, as it carries the oxygen. It is also a major component of blood by weight, accounting for 33% of red blood cells and 14% of whole blood. As such, to allow haemoglobin effectively makes the Watchtower's entire blood policy meaningless.
1992 - Specifically Forbidden
“It would be right, of course, to avoid products that listed things such as blood, blood plasma, plasma, globin [or globulin] protein, or hemoglobin [or globin] iron.” Watchtower 1992 Oct 15 p.31
2000- Indirectly Allowed. With the Watchtower 2000 Jun 15 stating that fractions of the four blood components are allowed, haemoglobin was indirectly permitted, being a fraction of red blood cells. The same conclusion could also be drawn from the 2004 chart.
2006- Specifically Allowed. In the Kingdom Ministry 2006 Nov p.5, a work sheet specifically stated that haemoglobin is a personal decision.
Determining Which Components to allow
In 1958 the criteria for determining what is acceptable related to whether the components 'nourished' the body, leading to serums being allowed.
"While God did not intend for man to contaminate his blood stream by vaccines, serums or blood fractions, doing so does not seem to be included in God's expressed will forbidding blood as food. It would therefore be a matter of individual judgment whether one accepted such types of medication or not." Watchtower 1958 Sep 15 p.575
In 1982 the concept of 'nourishment' was replaced with a consideration of whether a fraction was a 'major' component. Major components are forbidden but certain minor components are allowed.
"While these verses are not stated in medical terms, Witnesses view them as ruling out transfusion of whole blood, packed RBCs, and plasma, as well as WBC and platelet administration. However, Witnesses' religious understanding does not absolutely prohibit the use of components such as albumin, immune globulins, and hemophiliac preparations; each Witness must decide individually if he can accept these." Awake! 1982 Jun 22 p.25
In 1990, the consideration for which minor components can be use was related to placenta transfer.
"That some protein fractions from the plasma do move naturally into the blood system of another individual (the fetus) may be another consideration when a Christian is deciding whether he will accept immune globulin, albumin, or similar injections of plasma fractions. One person may feel that he in good conscience can; another may conclude that he cannot. Each must resolve the matter personally before God." Watchtower 1990 Jun 1 p.31
In 2000, the rule was greatly simplified. A "major" component cannot be used, but a "minor" one can, though the following section will show there is no basis or logic behind such reasoning. This distinction is identified in the 2008 book Keep Yourself in God's Love.
A handout to the Hospital Liaison Committee in 2000 went into more detail regarding what is and is not acceptable.
The consumption of blood cells is not an issue in the Bible, as meat could be eaten despite containing blood. The issue was respect for the sanctity of life. Though Biblical laws on blood changed over time, showing respect for life never has. Is refusing blood in a life or death situation showing such respect? It is interesting to examine the scriptural development.
"Since the time of Noah there are seven laws non-Jews were required to keep after becoming a worshiper of the God of Abraham. Keeping the Noahide laws did not save you -- even the Jews know that keeping the law does not save. Only the Messiah can save. These laws are simply instructions for our own good. The word law means instruction. The Noahide Laws based on Genesis nine are:These are the only laws that Jews consider binding on Gentiles, and none were in regards to eating blood.
* To behave justly in all relationships, and to establish courts of justice.
* To refrain from blaspheming Gods name.
* To refrain from practicing idolatry.
* To avoid immoral practices, specifically incest and adultery.
* To avoid shedding the blood of ones fellow man.
* To refrain from robbing ones fellow man.
* To refrain from eating a limb torn from a live animal." auburn.edu (6th Oct 2006)
The Watchtower claims the command to refrain from blood originated with Noah.
"God imposed this one restriction. They were not to consume blood.(Genesis 9:3,4)" Watchtower 2008 Oct 1 p.31
Genesis 9:4 does not discuss eating blood, rather Noah was told:
"Only flesh with its soul - its blood - YOU must not eat."
This command is about respect for animal life during the ritual of slaughter. This does not state that blood could not be eaten. In its strict Hebrew wording, it means that an animal should not have flesh torn off it for food, whilst the animal is still alive. In general, it is understood to mean that out of respect for the life of an animal, it was to be bled when being killed for food; a command against eating things strangled.
The Watchtower uses this as a key scripture to show that blood transfusions must not be used, attempting to apply it to the consumption of human blood. Neither point is made in this Scripture.
Even the Watchtower originally recognised that Genesis 9:4 did not apply to eating blood, as shown in the following article that attempted to prove that vaccinations were wrong.
"All reasonable minds must conclude that it was not the eating of the blood that God objected to, but it was bringing the blood of the beast in contact with the blood of man." Golden Age 1931 Feb 4 p.294
Showing that the Law to Noah was related to the act of killing an animal, rather than the blood itself, Deuteronomy 14:21 allowed Israelites to sell un-bled animals found dead as food for "alien residents" and "foreigners." This is because the alien resident was bound by Noahide Law, but not Mosaic Law.
The Mosaic Law gave over 600 laws for the Nation of Israel, greatly adding to the laws that were given to Noah. For the first time, a law stated that blood was not to be eaten; to do so would result in death.
Leviticus 17:10 "And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people."
Yet, this too was related to the ritual of bleeding an animal killed for food, not the blood itself. This point can be seen from Leviticus 17:15;
"As for any soul that eats a body [already] dead or something torn by a wild beast, whether a native or a alien resident, he must in that case wash his garments and bathe in water and be unclean until evening; and he must be clean."
If the animal was already dead the death penalty did not apply for eating an unbled animal; rather they were required to bathe due to being unclean from handling a dead body.
All Mosaic Law ceased when Jesus died. (Romans 10:4) As the Mosaic Law no longer applies to Christians, the Mosaic Laws regarding blood are not required to be followed. Jesus death did away with the legalist approach to life dictated by the Mosaic Law. His statement that Christians are not defiled by what they eat would include Mosaic Law covering such things as pork, oysters and blood.
Matthew 15:11 "Not what enters into [his] mouth defiles a man; but it is what proceeds out of [his] mouth that defiles a man."
Mark 7:15 "There is nothing from outside a man that passes into him that can defile him; but the things that issue forth out of a man are the things that defile a man."
From David we see that the regulation on blood was regarding the ritual of killing for food. David was not required to bleed the bears and lions killed in the protection of his sheep. (1Sa 17:34-36)
At 2 Samuel 23:13-16, when the mighty men risked their lives to get fresh water for David, he poured the water out to Jehovah (as commanded for blood) and chastised these men for not showing sanctity for their own lives. The words he used are enlightening.
"[David] did not consent to drink it, but poured it out to Jehovah. And he went on to say: "It is unthinkable on my part, O Jehovah, that I should do this! [Shall I drink] the blood of the men going at the risk of their souls?""
David's parallel of water with blood and life shows it is not literal blood that is important to Jehovah, but rather respect for life. Jehovah condemns reckless waste of life.
As discussed earlier, Jesus showed that sustaining life has always been more important than strict adherence to the Mosaic Law. The reason for the strict requirements within the Mosaic Law was to show the necessity of Jesus' Ransom sacrifice. As such, the Mosaic Law ceased to apply when Jesus died for mankind.
Colossians 2:13b, 14 "He kindly forgave us all our trespasses and blotted out the handwritten document against us, which consisted of decrees and which was in opposition to us; and He has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the torture stake.
The Watchtower however has used the Mosaic Law to formulate its blood stance.
"Occasionally, a doctor will urge a patient to deposit his own blood weeks before surgery (preoperative autologous blood donation, or PAD) so that if the need arises, he could transfuse the patient with his own stored blood. However, such collecting, storing, and transfusing of blood directly contradicts what is said in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Blood is not to be stored; it is to be poured out-returned to God, as it were. Granted, the Mosaic Law is not in force now. Nevertheless, Jehovah's Witnesses respect the principles God included in it, and they are determined to 'abstain from blood.' Hence, we do not donate blood, nor do we store for transfusion our blood that should be 'poured out.' That practice conflicts with God's law." Watchtower 2000 Oct 15 p.31
By using the Mosaic Law to create binding legislation on its followers, the Watchtower undermines the value of the blood of Christ through the Ransom. Paul warned against those that revert to the Mosaic Law;
2 Corinthians 3:14-15 "But their mental powers were dulled. For to this present day the same veil remains unlifted at the reading of the old covenant, because it is done away with by means of Christ. 15 In fact, down till today whenever Moses is read, a veil lies upon their hearts."
There is one occasion that on the surface may appear to complicate the issue on blood, and is the key scripture used by the Watchtower Society to justify its stance. At Acts 15:21 it is recorded that the Apostles and Older Men gave a decree to "abstain from blood". At first glance this may be taken to imply that the Mosaic Law was to continue applying to Christians in regard to consumption of blood. This is how Jehovah's Witnesses currently understand this scripture and is their predominate support for refusing blood transfusions.
Acts 15:21 does not apply to blood transfusions when understood in its historical and religious setting. It is not understood by the majority of Christian religions to be a binding command, nor was it understood as such by Pastor Russell. As already shown, the Noahide law on blood did not forbid eating blood, but was about showing respect when killing an animal. Blood transfusions do not involve taking life.
The command at Acts:
- Is not a binding command on all individuals
- Does not refer to blood transfusions
The situation at Acts was very specific. Jewish Christians were having difficulty accepting Gentile Christians, particularly in regards to circumcision. Paul, the Apostle to the Nations, was converting Gentiles and rightfully taught that they were not obligated to follow the Mosaic Law. Judaizers were a group of Jewish Christians claiming to be superior to the Gentile Christians due to following the Mosaic Law. As explained in the New Catholic Encyclopaedia, Judaizers were;
"A party of Jewish Christians in the Early Church, who either held that circumcision and the observance of the Mosaic Law were necessary for salvation and in consequence wished to impose them on the Gentile converts, or who at least considered them as still obligatory on the Jewish Christians."
The Apostles and older men convened to discuss the application of the Mosaic Law and came to the conclusion that observation of the Mosaic Law was unnecessary. However they recommended that 'the believers from among the nations' observe fours things from the Mosaic Law.
Acts 21:25 ""As for the believers from among the nations, we have sent out, rendering our decision that they should keep themselves from what is sacrificed to idols as well as from blood and what is strangled and from fornication.""
This is not an exhaustive list of things to abstain from (murder being obvious omission) so why was this unusual list given. It was to prevent stumbling Jewish brothers. This was explained in the Watch Tower 1909 Apr 15 pp. 116-117 and is the common Christian understanding. The New Catholic Encyclopaedia states;
"These four prohibitions were imposed for the sake of charity and union. As they forbade practices which were held in special abhorrence by all the Jews, their observance was necessary to avoid shocking the Jewish brethren and to make free intercourse between the two classes of Christians possible. With the disappearance of the Jewish-Christian community of Jerusalem at the time of the rebellion (A.D. 67-70), the question about circumcision and the observance of the Law ceased to be of any importance in the Church, and soon became a dead issue." (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII Copyright 1910 by Robert Appleton Company Online Edition Copyright 2003 by K. Knight as displayed at newadvent.org as of 17 Sep 2005)
How do both scholars and Russell reach this conclusion? Firstly, as the Mosaic Law had ceased to apply it does not make sense for Christians to be required to retain only this portion of it. Particularly is this so when considering that these four things are not the only Mosaic rules that a Christian must follow, nor are they the most important ones.
James explained why the four things mentioned at Acts 15:20 were specifically chosen in the very next verse.
Acts 15:19-21 "Hence my decision is not to trouble those from the nations who are turning to God, 20 but to write them to abstain from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. 21 For from ancient times Moses has had in city after city those who preach him, because he is read aloud in the synagogues on every sabbath."
The Law of Moses was read in Synagogues every Sabbath. The passage from Leviticus 17:1 to 18:27 applied to both Jews and Gentiles. This passage has the same four requirements, listed in the exact order as that given in Acts 21:25. (Lev 17:7 sacrifices to idol, Lev 17:10 eating blood, Lev 17:13 bleeding an animal, Lev 18 fornication) These were the compulsory rules for both Israelites and foreigners living in ancient Israel. These were considered of utmost importance to Jews due to being based on the Noahide laws.
- Genesis 8:20 "And Noah began to build an altar to Jehovah" introduced the concept of abstaining from idolatry
- Genesis 9:1 "Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth." Introduced the idea of marriage and not fornication
- Genesis 9:4 "Only flesh with its soul-its blood-YOU must not eat" was abstinence from things strangled.
- Genesis 9:6 "Anyone shedding man's blood, by man will his own blood be shed" introduced the blood law by forbidding murder. Once more we see that the foundation for the law on blood was respect for life.
This is why these four items meant so much to the Judaizers and why the Apostles concluded that upholding them was necessary to prevent stumbling within the surrounding Jewish congregations.
Paul specifically states that there is nothing wrong with eating food sacrificed to idols and explains that this prohibition was provided so as not to stumble others. This was only an issue in congregations that were having trouble between Judaizers and Gentiles.
1 Corinthians 8:4-13 "Now concerning the eating of foods offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no God but one. Nevertheless, there is not this knowledge in all persons; but some, being accustomed until now to the idol, eat food as something sacrificed to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food will not commend us to God; if we do not eat, we do not fall short, and, if we eat, we have no credit to ourselves. But keep watching that this authority of YOURS does not somehow become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone should see you, the one having knowledge, reclining at a meal in an idol temple, will not the conscience of that one who is weak be built up to the point of eating foods offered to idols? 11 Really, by your knowledge, the man that is weak is being ruined, [your] brother for whose sake Christ died. But when YOU people thus sin against YOUR brothers and wound their conscience that is weak, YOU are sinning against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat flesh at all, that I may not make my brother stumble."
1 Corinthians 10:25-33 "Everything that is sold in a meat market keep eating, making no inquiry on account of YOUR conscience; for "to Jehovah belong the earth and that which fills it." If anyone of the unbelievers invites YOU and YOU wish to go, proceed to eat everything that is set before YOU, making no inquiry on account of YOUR conscience. But if anyone should say to YOU: "This is something offered in sacrifice," do not eat on account of the one that disclosed it and on account of conscience. "Conscience," I say, not your own, but that of the other person. For why should it be that my freedom is judged by another person's conscience? If I am partaking with thanks, why am I to be spoken of abusively over that for which I give thanks? Therefore, whether YOU are eating or drinking or doing anything else, do all things for God's glory. Keep from becoming causes for stumbling to Jews as well as Greeks and to the congregation of God, even as I am pleasing all people in all things, not seeking my own advantage but that of the many, in order that they might get saved."
Even though the decree at Acts 15 says to abstain from eating food sacrificed to idols, Paul makes clear that there is nothing wrong with this practice. He said it was only wrong when it stumbled the brothers, in this case the Judaizers. The same principal applies to blood. Acts 15 included food sacrificed to idols, blood and animals strangled because they caused stumbling in the mixed congregations due to their being read "in the Synagogue on every Sabbath", not because they are offensive to God. This became less of an issue after the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. and holds no relevance in our era.
Abstaining from blood is never mentioned in any other context in the New Testament. It is never discussed as a reason to shun a brother. Paul does not mention eating blood at 1 Corinthians 5 as a reason to 'quit mixing' with a brother, neither does John mention it. In Revelation 21:8 and 1 Corinthians 6 blood is not said to be a reason for not inheriting God's Kingdom. If avoiding blood was a key requirement of God it would be mentioned alongside sins such as fornication, murder and idolatry that are repeatedly condemned in the New Testament.
Parents have a duty of care towards their children and governmental authorities are expected to remove a child from a parent that is mistreating or endangering them. This is a particularly sensitive issue when parents allow religious beliefs to affect the care they provide. When a Witness refuses blood for a child in a life or death situation, it is common for courts to rule against Witnesses and administer a transfusion, and rightfully so.
The Watchtower publication "How can blood save your life?", agrees the State should protect children, but claims its case is different.
"Clearly, the State can and should step in to protect a neglected child. Still, it is easy to see how very different it is when a caring parent requests high-quality nonblood medical therapy."
Blood Transfusions and Rape
"Especially is this true since the Bible links abstinence from blood with such things as abstinence from fornication. Hence, since Christians would resist rape—a defiling sexual assault—so they would resist court-ordered blood transfusions—also a form of assault on the body." Watchtower 1980 Jun 15 p.23Rape is generally violent and traumatic, with long-term emotional repercussions. A blood transfusion is no more traumatic than the rest of an operation, apart from Watchtower's religiously imposed guilt that such a medical procedure will destroy a person's relationship with God and their chance of everlasting life. In the case of a forced transfusion, this guilt is particularly unfair, as is the statement that rape is "a defiling sexual assault". The sentiment harks back to Watchtower statements linking rape with fornication.
"One sister responded to a judge that in such a case she would not be responsible for what he decided. While correct from one point of view, the judge took it to mean that since she would not be held responsible, then he would take the responsibility for her. He ordered a transfusion.
You must understand that in asking these questions, some are usually looking for a way around your refusal to accept blood. Do not inadvertently give it to them! So how would we avoid that misunderstanding? You could reply: “If blood is forced on me in any way, it would be the same to me as being raped. I would suffer the emotional and spiritual consequences of that unwanted attack on me for the rest of my life. I would resist with all my strength such a violation of my body without my consent. I would make every effort to prosecute my attackers just as I would in a case of rape.”" Kingdom Ministry 1990 Nov p.6
Allowing a child to die for religious ideals is no different than other forms of neglect. Most Witnesses would agree it is wrong when children are left to die for the medical ideologies of other religious groups, such as Christian Science and Scientology. Whilst non-blood treatment may be acceptable, this is not always possible, such as in emergency room situations and during sudden blood loss. Further, the treatment of infants is more risky due to their lower blood volumes.
When a child is born it has no "beliefs", these are imposed upon a child by its parents. In the case of Jehovah's Witnesses, it is estimated that two thirds eventually leave the religion. Is it acceptable for a parent to put their child's life at risk for a belief that the child is statistically unlikely to agree with in adulthood?
A Witness child is trained to say that a court enforced blood transfusion is akin to being raped.
"The judge wrote: “D.P. [a minor] testified she would resist having a blood transfusion in any way that she could. She considered a transfusion an invasion of her body and compared it to rape. She asked the Court to respect her choice and permit her to continue at [the hospital] without Court ordered blood transfusions.” The Christian instruction she had received came to her aid at this difficult time.—See box.
A 12-year-old girl was being treated for leukemia. A child-welfare agency took the matter to court so that blood could be forced on her. The judge concluded: “L. has told this court clearly and in a matter-of-fact way that, if an attempt is made to transfuse her with blood, she will fight that transfusion with all of the strength that she can muster. She has said, and I believe her, that she will scream and struggle and that she will pull the injecting device out of her arm and will attempt to destroy the blood in the bag over her bed. I refuse to make any order which would put this child through that ordeal . . . With this patient, the treatment proposed by the hospital addresses the disease only in a physical sense. It fails to address her emotional needs and her religious beliefs.” Watchtower 1991 Jun 15 p. 17
Such a statement is emotionally compelling when uttered by a child, but a minor that has undergone a life of one-sided indoctrination on blood is not in a position to make an informed decision on such a complex subject.
When discussing its position in more public forum, the Watchtower leadership admit that it should not fight against saving children with a blood transfusion, in life and death cases. The Watchtower Society conceded to Australian parliament that it accepts the law to take Witness children off their parents in such situations.
"Senator SCHACHT - I see. I just want to turn now to the well-documented case from your point of view about children and the complaint that we have laws in Australia in all states giving medical practitioners the right to overrule the parents.
Mr Toole - We are not saying in our recommendation that the law should not exist. What we have said is that there may well be circumstances arise where it does become an absolute life and death issue. We have said that in those circumstances that is the way the law should be framed. In its present form, the law is not framed that way and it allows an invasion of the family and an overruling of the principles of that family in circumstances that really do not call for that at all." (COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA, Official Committee Hansard, JOINT COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE, Reference: Australia's efforts to promote and protect freedom of religion and belief FRIDAY, 15 OCTOBER 1999 as shown at aph.gov.au as at 27th May 2006)
Likewise, in 1999 a Watchtower representative stated; "The parents are not asked to consent to the use of blood, but are encouraged to recognize the situation in law." (Malyon, Transfusion-free treatment of Jehovah's Witnesses: respecting the autonomous patient's rights, Journal of Medical Ethics, 1998; 24:302-307)
It is not possible to ask the children that were sacrificed for their religion how they feel about dying as martyrs. It is however possible to find out how children that survived a blood transfusion feel, after a court order forced a blood transfusion upon them. Such is the case of Carolyn Ivey, born prematurely to Jehovah's Witness parents on Aug 31st 1975, weighing just 2 pounds. Doctors determined that a blood transfusion was required to save her and her twins life, and a young attorney worked tirelessly to ensure the twins received the required treatment. Julia did not survive but Carolyn did. The story picks up three decades later.
"Pensacola attorney Joel Cohen was just skimming his email when a sentence jumped out at him: "You saved my life when I was a baby."… "It raised the hair on my neck," he said.
The email was from Carolynn Ivey Evans, a 36-year-old Ohio woman who might have died as an infant without Cohen's legal efforts.
For Carolynn Ivey Evans — she is married now, living in Ohio — the email to Cohen was part of a search for identity.
"I'm 36 now and a mother of four," she wrote in an email to the Pensacola News Journal for this story. "For years, I have wondered what had happened to me and my twin sister. I started my search six months ago via Internet and was so surprised at how big the story really is. … So I contacted Mr. Cohen (to thank him) for saving my life. If it was not for Mr. Cohen fighting for me, I would not be here today! It brought me to tears that he would try so hard." content.usatoday.com 27 Mar 2012
It is tragic to think of the children that did not receive such a chance, and were sacrificed by their parents misguided faith. This is not to take away from the terribly traumatic situation these Jehovah's Witnesses parents faced, their strength and their suffering, but regardless of how sincere they were, it is difficult not to draw a comparison to child sacrifice condemned in the Bible.
Jeremiah 7:30,31. "For the sons of Judah … burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, a thing that I had not commanded and that had not come up into my heart."
Jeremiah 19:5 "… they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent ones. And they built the high places of the Ba'al in order to burn their sons in the fire as whole burnt offerings to the Ba'al, something that I had not commanded or spoken of, and that had not come up into my heart."
Equally tragic are experiences of parents that lose not only a children, but their entire family over the issue of blood. Lawrence Hughes daughter Bethany died after refusing blood. During this time, Lawrence realised that the Watchtower stance on blood is not Christian, but by then it was too late for his daughter to be saved. Now his wife and other children have no contact with him, as the situation forced him to rethink his belief in the Watchtower being directed by God.
I received a similar experience by email.
"I have an aunt Queensland way. She was a Jehovah's Witness till her eldest daughter was hurt in a road accident. She died from massive blood loss. They did not transfuse her. It broke up her marriage, she ended up leaving the organization and lost her other two daughters through shunning."
See also My Child is Dead
As a parent, I can think of no greater personal tragedy. It is sad the most Jehovah's Witnesses will not properly research this issue until after it is too late.
In general, doctors are encouraged to follow the wishes of their patients, and many will respect the stand that a Jehovah's Witness will make for their convictions. Doctors act in the best interests of their patients and recognise that blood carries risks and will avoid it where considered possible.
"Alternatives To Blood Transfusion
Because the blood transfusions carry risks and because the blood supply is limited, doctors try not to transfuse when possible. In some cases, alternatives to blood product transfusions may be available. Volume expanders: When a patient has lost a lot of body fluids but does not need red blood cells or other specific blood components, volume expanders may be given to prevent or treat shock caused by fluid loss. The most common volume expanders are normal saline (salt water) and lactated Ringer's solution (saline plus additional chemicals). Other volume expanders include albumin, hydroxyethyl starch (HES), dextrans, and purified protein fractions (PPF)." cancer.org (as of Feb 28th 2006)
However, blood is at times deemed essential for survival and even though a Witness may question the ethics of the Medical fraternity,3 they should not ignore that a doctor has financial incentive to act in a manner that gives patients their best chance for survival. Increasing litigation insurance costs ensure doctors give blood because they believe it increases a person's chance of survival. To feel otherwise is based on misinformation presented in Watchtower publications (as demonstrated in "Jehovah's Witnesses, Blood Transfusions, and the Tort of Misrepresentation" by Kerry Louderback-Wood)
As of 2010, there are no alternatives for red blood cells; this is still the only known way for the body to successfully carry oxygen. As medical research has progressed full blood transfusions have become less necessary for survival, but there are still situations where a blood transfusion is the only option.
rsc.org (Jun 6 2010) stated that "Human blood substitutes have been in the pipeline since the 1980s. But, for a combination of scientific and political reasons, there are none currently on the market in either Europe or the US. ... The study, led by Charles Natanson, a senior scientist at the US National Institutes of Health, revealed a threefold increase in the risk of heart attacks in patients who received the substitutes, compared with the control group who received donor blood." Click for a PDF of the full article. If whole blood transfusions were simply unnecessary, there would not be so much effort going into trying to find a substitute.
The Canadian Department of Anethesia makes some important observations in a training module entitled "Blood Transfusions and the Jehovah's Witnesses Patient":
"It is possible that the consequence of refusing blood transfusions has not been as perilous as many clinicians anticipated. Experience with managing Jehovah's Witnesses patients has challenged earlier conventional wisdom regarding transfusion therapy." - anesthesia.utoronto.ca (1/11/2005)
However, the article clearly shows that the Witness stance can at times lead to loss of life, high financial cost and is illogical. It states that refusing blood transfusions "can result in a challenging dilemma for physicians because a routine, safe, and potentially life-saving medical intervention is unacceptable to the patient." (www.anesthesia.utoronto.ca/English/An-Introduction.html)
““I want,” she said. “I want my cousin to be my deputy.” Her cousin was not a Jehovah’s Witness. In the event that the patient lost consciousness, she wanted her cousin to make her choices. She was very precise: Her cousin was not her health care proxy. A health care proxy, a more usual legal arrangement, would appoint a deputy who has to make the decisions the patient would make herself if she were able to do so. No—she delegated the cousin to make the decisions he wanted to make at the time of her inability to speak, rather than her own. It seemed to her team that she was very clearly choosing someone who was not a Jehovah’s Witness, someone who would not make a Jehovah’s Witness choice. Someone who would allow us to save her life.” (slate.com 27 Jun 2013)Whilst this may have appeased the patient's conscience, it is unlikely to be looked upon lightly if the elders were to become aware of the plan.
Many physicians understand that the Watchtower rules on blood related procedures are inconsistent;
"Many physicians are surprised by the complexities involved in distinguishing between acceptable and unacceptable treatments for JW patients. Muramoto notes: [Muramoto O. Recent developments in medical care of Jehovah's Witnesses. West J Med 1999] "For physicians who treat JWs, one of the most puzzling aspects is that they are, in fact, accepting many blood-based treatments despite their belief in absolute abstinence from blood. Since this biblical law is said to be absolute, it is unclear why the WTS does not teach its members to simply refuse all medical use of blood."
Treating a patient with bloodless surgery can also led to far higher treatment costs:
"It is important to remember that such dramatic clinical outcomes may sometimes come at a very high financial cost. Consider for instance the case of a 67 year old Jehovah's Witness who survived emergency surgery for a leaking abdominal aortic aneurysm, despite having a postoperative hemoglobin concentration of only 30 g/l . During his 14 weeks of intensive care in hospital he was given total parenteral nutrition, intravenous iron, folinic acid, and subcutaneous epoetin alfa to aid hemoglobin production. Such an extravagant expenditure of resources to avoid a blood transfusion prompted one physician working in Africa to make the following comments: "Such a stay must easily have cost a six figure sum. Here in Uganda for 250.000 we can treat 25 000 outpatients and 7000 inpatients, conduct over 1000 deliveries, and perform 1500 operations. We run a community health programme for 500 000 people. The costs incurred by this one patient might run our unit for a whole year. Will the time come when a religious group will be charged the costs of keeping its members alive?"" anesthesia.utoronto.ca
Furthermore the training manual makes note of a Jehovah's Witnesses willingness to use blood components without being willing to donate blood. The article ends by stating that since the Watchtower lifted its ban on vaccinations and organ transplants, it can be hoped that the stand against blood transfusions will also be reversed over time.
How Blood Can Save Your Life? p.7 says "you owe it to yourself to get the facts in order to make an informed choice about blood." The majority of Jehovah's Witnesses are only aware of one side of the issue, with little knowledge of the principles outlined in this article. The information the Watchtower provides is biased and misleading. Exaggerations abound, such as the statement:
"No one who objectively examines the facts can deny that blood transfusions involve great risk." How Blood Can Save Your Life?
There is not "great risk" with a blood transfusion, and generally a doctor will administer a transfusion because the risk is perceived to be lower than the risk of not having one.
The Bible places great emphasis on respect for life. At Matthew 12:11, Jesus showed that it was more important to save the life of an animal than to follow the Mosaic Law. How much more important it is to save the life of a human than follow the law on blood transfusions, legislation that the Watchtower organization did not establish until 1945.
Christian scholars understand that the Mosaic Law was done away with at Jesus death and that Acts 15 was only to apply to congregations with a mix of Judaizers and Gentiles. Russell and the original Jehovah's Witnesses recognised this for almost half the history of the Watchtower Society. Jehovah's Witnesses currently misuse Acts 15 to claim modern day Christians must not have blood and then erringly revert to the Mosaic Law for formulating the strict details on their blood doctrine.
Due to the variety of standards that the Watchtower Society has had over the years in regards to blood, vaccinations, transplants and other medical procedures a person is entitled to ask:
"Is Jehovah directing the Watchtower Society in issuing medical directives?"
Can it be said that God's Holy Spirit has directed the Watchtower Society to this controversial position on blood transfusions? An examination of the history of this doctrine shows that this can not be considered the case. If God's Holy Spirit was indeed the force behind understanding the correct application of this issue then there would not be ongoing changes and inconsistencies.
One must wonder why God waited for 60 years to reveal such a pivotal doctrine, a differentiator used to distinguish Jehovah's Witnesses from the rest of the world. The length of time to introduce this issue indicates this had nothing to do with Holy Spirit. The current watered down blood standard now contradicts the 1961 position, as well as the Watchtower's existing reason for abstaining from blood.
A gross injustice has been done to members and it is unfortunate that Jehovah's Witnesses are willing to die for this Watchtower doctrine without knowing its history. Most Witnesses, even elders on the Hospital Liaison Committees, are not aware that blood could originally be eaten. Nor are many aware of the number of changes to the doctrine, or that 100% of blood can now be used in fractionated forms. Fewer still know the scriptural reason most Christian religions believe that the law on blood does not apply in our day.
The Watchtower Society have been removing legal liability from themselves through recent changes that make many blood related decisions the responsibility of followers consciences. When I have discussed with active Witnesses the lack of logic behind the current blood stance most seem unmoved and quite happy to be separate from "the world" on this issue.
It is likely that in time a non-blood alternative will be developed with the ability to replace the oxygen carrying capabilities of blood. Alternatively legal pressure may force the Watchtower Society to return to its original position and once again allow blood transfusions as acceptable. In either case blood transfusions will become a distant blight on the history of the Watchtower Society. In the meantime, Jehovah's Witnesses will continue to die accepting current Watchtower blood doctrine as God's will, and consume millions of dollars of taxpayer's money each year demanding costly non-blood alternatives and fighting medical authorities in court.
The blood doctrine would not be such an issue if it was just applied to eating blood. However extending this to the application of blood transfusions at the risk of death has rightfully led to great criticism. Lives were lost following laws on blood, vaccinations and organ transplants that were later superseded. Others are still in a disfellowshipped state for transfusing blood components that are now considered acceptable. The effect that shunning non compliant members has on lives is dramatic. The deaths that have resulted to compliant members are the ultimate sacrifice for an Organization. In this regard the Watchtower Society has blood guilt on its hands. It is ironic that God's law on blood was to show respect for life, whereas the ever changing Watchtower standard results in unnecessary death.
 Watchtower 1968 July 1 p.391 Is Your Religion the True One? "Does it allow the eating of blood? ... The scriptures here cited show that the true religion does not teach or practice any of these things."
 It would be revealing to know how many of these children's parents are still Witnesses. I have been contacted by parents who lost a child due to refusing a blood transfusion, and were led by the situation to the realisation that the religion does not teach the truth. It is difficult to comprehend any greater tragedy.
 Awake 1990 Oct 22 p.7 "Selling blood is big business. Well, what makes many people uneasy about big business in general? It is greed. The greed shows, for example, when big business persuades people to purchase things they don't really need; or worse, when it continues to foist on the public some products known to be dangerous, or when it refuses to spend money to make its products safer. If the blood business is tainted with that kind of greed, the lives of millions of people the world over are in great danger."
Originally published Jun 2005, last update Mar 2015.
Recommended Reading and Links
Saving my Life with a Blood Transfusion The experience of a teenage Jehovah's Witness that had a blood transfusion against her families wishes.
Jehovah's Witnesses, Blood Transfusion, and the Tort of Misrepresentation PDF by Kerry Louderback-Wood
Associated Jehovah's Witnesses for Reform on Blood
Excerpt from In Search of Christian Freedom
Jehovah's Witnesses: Bulgaria and Blood
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2015