Jehovah's Witnesses are forbidden from taking blood transfusions on the belief that the Bible forbids use of blood under any circumstance. As the Awake! admits, this has lead to the loss of Witness lives, including that of children.
"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
The Watchtower stance is not only dangerous, but unscriptural and plagued with logical inconsistencies.
As Jehovah's Witnesses become aware of the history of this Watchtower doctrine, and gain a better understanding of the Scriptural principles involved, they can become quite dismayed at the injustice that has been done to their members.
This article shows:
- The inconsistent Watchtower history on blood
- The inconsistency of the stance as of the year 2000
- Why blood transfusions are Scripturally acceptable
Inconsistent history - Inconsistent stance
For many decades followers of the Watchtower were taught that blood is acceptable both as food and in transfusions. As understood by most Christian groups, Russell explained that rules on blood did not apply to Gentiles, unless eating blood caused stumbling in early Christian Congregations.
"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." Watch Tower 1909 Apr 15 pp.116-117
It was during the time of Rutherford that eating blood became unacceptable. (Watchtower 1927 Dec 15 p.371) This coincided with Woodworth's leadership as editor of the Golden Age. During this period the Golden Agereleased a sucession of preposterous decrees and statements, such as;
- "Medicine originated in demonology" Golden Age 1931 Aug 5 p.728
- Vaccinations were forbidden as "a direct violation of the everlasting covenant " Golden Age 1931 Feb 4 p.293
- "The bobbed hair craze is sure to lead to baldness, sooner or later." Golden Age 1924 Nov 19 p.100
- "If any overzealous doctor condemns your tonsils go and commit suicide with a case-knife. It's cheaper and less painful." Golden Age 1926 Apr 7 p.438
- "There is no food that is right food for the morning meal. At breakfast is no time to break a fast. Keep up the daily fast until the noon hour." Golden Age 1925 Sep 9 pp.784-785
- Aluminium pots are "a curse to humanity and their manufacture and use should be forbidden by law." Golden Age 1932 Oct 26 p.35
The editor responsible for such ideas can hardly be considered a trusted source of either medical or Biblical guidance.
It was not until 1951 that blood transfusions were clearly banned and in the Watchtower 1961 Jan 15 pp.63-64 to accept a transfusion became a disfellowshipping offence.
Since 1951 the stance on blood has been ever changing and inconsistent. At first blood in every form including fractions were specifically banned. Over time the position on different components changed many times. Do the following changes indicate these rules are from the direction of Jehovah or the whim of man?
- 1954 - Unacceptable Awake! 1954 Jan 8 p.24
- 1958 - Acceptable Watchtower 1958 Sep 15 p.575
- 1963 - Unacceptable Watchtower 1963 Febr 15 p.124
- 1965 - Acceptable Watchtower 1964 Nov 15 pp.680-3
- 1974 - Conscience matter Watchtower 1974 Jun 1 p.352
- 1972 - Unacceptable Awake! 1972 Apr 8 p.30
- 1982 - Objectionable Awake! 1982 Jun 22 p.25
- 1983 - Acceptable Awake! 1983 Mar 22 p.16
- Prior to 1921 - Acceptable
- 1921- Unacceptable Golden Age 1921 Oct 12 p.17
- 1952 - Acceptable Watchtower 1952 Dec 15 p.764
- Prior to 1967 - Acceptable Awake! 1949 Dec 22
- 1967 - Unacceptable Watchtower 1967 Nov 15 pp.702-704
- 1980 - Acceptable Watchtower 1980 Mar 15 p.31)
- Prior to 1945 - Acceptable Golden Age 1925 Jul 29 p.683, Golden Age 1929 May 1 p.502, Consolation1940 Dec 25 p.19
- 1945 - Unacceptable in every form, including hemoglobin, own stored blood and every form of fractionation 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."
- 1982 - Minor components acceptable Awake! 1982 Jun 22 p.25
- 1989 - Autologous, Acute Normovolemic Hemodilution (ANH - use of ones own blood). Storage of own blood unacceptable, acceptable if circulation not interupted - Watchtower 1989 Mar 1 p.30
- 2000 - Major change to blood policy, with all of blood acceptable when converted to minor fractions - Watchtower 2000 Jun 15 pp.29-31
- 2004 - Hemoglobin specifically listed as acceptable - Watchtower 2004 Jun 15
There is no Scriptural guideline on blood to indicate it is made up of components, and the Watchtower division between major and minor fractions is arbitrary. For instance, forbidden white blood cells compose less than 1% of the volume of blood whereas allowed serum proteins compose 6%. Hemoglobin is now an allowed component despite making up over 15% of the volume of blood. Quite startling, once broken down into fractions a Witness can transfuse 100% of blood.
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. 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?
This raises interesting questions and dilemmas;
- If abstaining from blood means a major fraction must not be used, why is a minor fraction allowed?
- If blood must be poured onto the ground, from where are blood fractions derived?
- Since Jehovah's Witnesses are not to donate blood, where do the blood fractions they use come from?
- If blood fractions were always acceptable to Jehovah, who is responsible for the Witnesses that died when previously told they must abstain from them?
Blood must be 'poured out onto the ground'. This reasoning is used to prevent a Jehovah's Witness from;
- donating blood
- transfusing blood
- transfusing four of bloods fractions (red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and plasma)
- transfusing ones own stored blood (Watchtower 2000 Oct 15 p.31)
This is where the Watchtower standard becomes grossly inconsistent. A Jehovah's Witness is able to have blood taken and stored for blood tests. Vaccines that are cultivated in stored blood are allowed. Many types of blood fractions are allowed. Medical treatments that are derived from large quantities of stored blood are permitted. According to the IDF Patient/Family Handbook p.76 to make immunoglobulin "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.
A Witness is not to use use their own stored blood.
"Jehovahs Witnesses, though, DO NOT accept this procedure. We have long appreciated that such stored blood certainly is no longer part of the person. It has been completely removed from him, so it should be disposed of in line with Gods Law: You should pour it out upon the ground as water.Deuteronomy 12:24." Watchtower 1989 Mar 1 p.30
Lets think of how contradictory this is. Jehovah's Witnesses are allowed to use blood fractions made from the stored blood of other people. Yet they are still not allowed to use their own stored blood, even if they will die as a result.
In Recent developments in medical care of Jehovah's Witnesses West J Med, 1999, Muramoto O. states; "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 when blood is a viable alternative can also led to far higher treatment costs: "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?"" (http://www.anesthesia.utoronto.ca/English/Clinical-Management.html)
Correct Bible Stance
Consuming blood was not forbidden until the Mosaic Law. Noah was not forbidden from consuming blood, rather the rule at Genesis 9:4 "Only flesh with its soul-its blood-YOU must not eat" is specifically a command to bleed an animal before eating it. This was to show respect for the life of the animal killed.
The Mosaic Law introduced the concept that eating blood was wrong, though not important enough to be one of the 10 commandments. Neither did it apply to Gentiles, who were allowed to be sold un-bled animals. (Deut. 14:21) Most importantly, the Mosaic Law is no longer in force due to the value of Jesus Ransom Sacrifice. (Romans 10:4) 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 New Testament account that at a superficial level may appear to forbid blood. This was during a discussion of circumcision at Acts 15:20; 21:25.
Acts 15:19-20 "Hence my decision is not to trouble those from the nations who are turning to God, but to write them to abstain from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood."
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 passage only applied to congregations in the first century with a mix of Gentiles and Judaizers. Why is it understood this way by most Christian Scholars, as it also was by Russell? Because Paul showed that these practices are neither wrong nor binding. At 1 Corinthians 8:4-13 and 1 Corinthians 10:25-33 Paul specifically states that eating food sacrificed to idols is not wrong, unless it would "make my brother stumble." Jesus had likewise said that it is "Not what enters into [his] mouth defiles a man; but it is what proceeds out of [his] mouth that defiles a man." (Matthew 15:11) It was that blood is considered offensive, but for the case of stumbling that this decree was given to mixed congregations at that time.
Why does Acts 21 specifically mention these 4 practices at the exclusion of more obvious sins such as murder? The reason Jewish Christians felt strongly about these is explained by Luke in the very next verse;
Acts 15:21 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 words of Moses that were read in Synagogues every Sabbath is the passage from Lev 17:1 to 18:27 which contains the same four requirements, listed in the exact order as that given in Acts 15.
That blood was not one of the important issues is indicated by it not being discussed in any other situation in the New Testament. It is not listed at 1 Corinthians 5 as a reason to shun a Christian, nor is the use of blood mentioned in Revelation 1:8 as a reason for not inheriting God's Kingdom.
Respect for life
Bible guidance on blood centers on respect for life. Noah was instructed to bleed an animal after killing it to demonstrate his respect for the life of the animal taken. At 2 Samuel 23:13-16 David chastised his mighty men for not showing sanctity for their own lives, liking the water they collected to blood.
"[David] did not consent to drink it, but poured it out to Jehovah. 17 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?""
On the other hand, when lives was at stake God allowed his laws to be broken if it would result in the preservation of life.
"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." Watchtower 1952 Sep 15 p.575
When Jesus said "I want mercy, and not sacrifice" at Matthew 12:7 he likewise shows that Jehovah is not one that wants his laws to result in sacrifice.
Eating Blood vs. Blood Transfusions
The statement at Acts 21 to abstain from blood is sandwiched between two other dietary commands, eating food sacrificed to idols and eating strangled animals.
Of course a blood transfusion is not the same as eating blood. Blood transfusions do not involve digesting blood for sustenance. Secondly, the command given to Noah at Genesis 9:4 was that the blood was to be poured out of a slaughtered animal. Blood transfusions do not result in the death of the donor. Even if a person chooses not to eat blood a far more important principle applies to having a blood transfusion.
It is pertinent to recognize that even the strictest Orthodox Jews who abstain from eating blood are allowed blood transfusions as a life saving procedure. Jewish kosher probation's are waived in regards to life saving medical use. Jesus himself showed that Christians were to follow this same line of reasoning. Jesus used David as an example to show that acts of mercy, such as healing a person are more important than the strict adherence of scriptural regulation.
Luke 6:7-10 "The scribes and the Pharisees were now watching him closely to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, in order to find some way to accuse him. 8 He, however, knew their reasonings, yet he said to the man with the withered hand: "Get up and stand in the center." And he rose and took his stand. 9 Then Jesus said to them: "I ask YOU men, Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do injury, to save or to destroy a soul?" 10 And after looking around at them all, he said to the man: "Stretch out your hand." He did so, and his hand was restored."
Jesus here 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 (April 22 2007) http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/pikuach_nefesh.html)
By forbidding blood transfusions the Watchtower show they formulate doctrine based on the reasoning of legalistic Western minds, without an understanding of the native spirit behind these ancient Eastern texts.
Is Blood Dangerous?
The Watchtower consistently relies on fear as a motivator to abstain from blood. A look at the Watchtower Index shows a preoccupation with instilling fear of blood into the average Witness, with a long list of 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
There are definite advantages in avoiding blood transfusions. As with any medical procedure a blood transfusion has an element of risk. As a form of organ transplant the body recognises blood from others as a foreign substance. At times a person that does not take blood can heal quicker than one that does and increased medical knowledge highlights the benefit in attempting to reduce the loss of blood during surgery.
However, there are occasions when a blood transfusion is absolutely essential to sustain a person's life. Blood supplements are not yet advanced to the point where they can replace all the functions of blood, and so operations that result in large blood loss can not be done without blood. For instance, saline volume expanders do not have oxygen carrying capabilities. On other occasions blood substitutes may not be for on hand. I have corresponded with a number of Witnesses that have had a loved ones die for refusing blood, including one mother that recalled after a car accident her son bleeding to death in front of her whilst refusing an available transfusion.
Over the last 200 years medical advances have doubled life expectancy in the developed world. Doctors have not only ethical but also significant legal obligations to provide their patients with the best solutions known to save life. It is ignorant for the Watchtower to suggest that a doctor's decision in other medical areas should be listened to, but that on the use of blood the medical fraternity does not know what it is talking about.
The Bible places great emphasis on respect for life. To save the life of a person is more important than to follow law. God's law on blood was to show respect for life, whereas the ever changing Watchtower standard results in unnecessary death.
Christianity understands that the Mosaic Law was done away with at Jesus death. Act 15 was only to apply to congregations with a mix of Judaizers and Gentiles. The Watchtower recognised this for almost half its history. For reason unbeknown to the writer the Watchtower started to misuse Acts 15 and revert to the Mosaic Law to claim Witnesses must not use blood.
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? Has God's Holy Spirit directed the Watchtower Society to this controversial position on blood transfusions?"
The history of this meandering Watchtower doctrine shows that this can not be considered the case.
The Watchtower Society has been removing legal liability from themselves through recent changes that make many blood related decisions the responsibility of follower's consciences. 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.
People are still being shunned after being disfellowshipped for transfusing blood components that are now considered acceptable. Lives have been lost following laws on blood, vaccinations and organ transplants that were later superseded. The deaths that have resulted to compliant members are the ultimate sacrifice for an Organization.