Jehovah's Witness Children & Blood Transfusions
Jehovah's Witnesses are permitted most forms of medical treatment, but under no circumstances must they ever have a blood transfusion. This includes refusing a blood transfusion for their children, even if doing so will result in the death of the child.
Whilst there are alternatives to blood transfusions for most medical procedures, these are not always available or adequate, such as in emergency situations, during sudden blood loss, or for certain surgical procedures. The treatment of infants is even more risky due to their lower blood volumes.
Watchtower admits its stance against blood transfusions has led to the death of Jehovah's Witnesses, even showcasing images of 26 Witness children that died refusing blood.
"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 preaches that attempts to save life through a blood transfusion, even that of a child, risks forfeiting everlasting life.
"Suppose doctors say that he must have a blood transfusion or he will die. ... 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
"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." Watchtower 1970 Apr 15 p.249
Rights of Children
When Jehovah's Witness parents refuse a blood transfusion for their child in a life or death situation, it is common for courts to rule against the parents and allow medical professionals to administer a blood transfusion.
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 religious beliefs affect the care parents provide. Watchtower publication "How can blood save your life?" agrees the State should protect children, but claims refusing a blood transfusion should not be considered as neglect.
"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."
Allowing a child to die for religious ideals is no more justified than any other form of neglect. Most Jehovah's Witnesses would agree it is wrong when children die due to the misguided medical ideologies of other religious groups, such as Christian Science and Scientology, yet fail to comprehend that their actions regarding blood transfusions are equally culpable.
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?
The March 2022 Letter to Elders "How Parents Can Protect Their Children From Misuse of Blood" tells parents to train their children that blood transfusions are wrong.
Watchtower compares a court enforced blood transfusion to rape.
"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.23
"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
This is not a valid analogy. Rape 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 affects their chance of everlasting life.
Even children of Jehovah's Witnesses are 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 indoctrination against blood transfusions is in no position to make an informed decision on such a complex subject. The child will have heard many times that blood transfusions are dangerous and offensive to Jehovah, even role playing with parents how to handle emergencies that require blood, such as described in an email I received from a reader.
"I was so indoctrinated that my dad used to role play during family bible studies, me lying on the floor pretending I’ve been in a car accident and him playing the role of the doctor and we would practise what I would say in the situation that I was being pressured into a blood transfusion. I know he would feel he did the right thing, however I’m so happy I woke up and have learned how silly this lifelong fear was, and how unbiblical it really is when you look at what Jesus taught about life being more important than the law."
Watchtower's Duplicitous Stance
The unnecessary death of children is even more tragic upon finding out about the hypocritical stance of Watchtower leaders. When discussing its position in public forum, Watchtower leaders agree to not fight against saving children with a blood transfusion. Watchtower conceded to Australian parliament that it accepts "the law" to take Jehovah's 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. However, it is possible to find out how children that survived a court-ordered blood transfusion feel. Such is the case of Carolyn Ivey, born prematurely to Jehovah's Witness parents on 31st August 1975, weighing just 2 pounds. It was determined that a blood transfusion was required to save her life. 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 parent's misguided faith. This is not to take away from the terribly traumatic situation these Jehovah's Witness 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 19:5 "… they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent ones."
Equally heartbreaking 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 a blood transfusion. During this ordeal, Lawrence realised that the Watchtower stance on blood is not acceptable. By then it was too late for his daughter to be saved. Not only did he lose Bethany, his wife and other children ceased all contact with him after he admitted he could not longer agree with Watchtower teachings or remain one of Jehovah's Witnesses.
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."
As a parent, I can think of no greater personal tragedy.
This topic raises important questions. Firstly, should a parent be allowed to impose their beliefs upon a child, if it will result in risking that child's life. Secondly, is Watchtower's teaching that blood transfusions violate Bible principles correct.
The article Blood Transfusions shows in great detail how Watchtower's stance against blood transfusions is not supported Scripturally. Even worse, Jehovah's Witnesses are forbidden from donating blood, yet are permitted to benefit from blood donations by accepting blood fractions.
There is no greater indictment against Watchtower leaders than their enforcement of unnecessary death upon followers for a teaching that is not only incorrect, but demonstrates the utmost hypocrisy.
Originally published March 2022.
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2022