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 current stance is that Jehovah's Witnesses may not consume blood, or four blood fractions - red cells, white cells, platelets, plasma - but other fractions are acceptable.
How To Remain In God's Love (2017) p.247
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.
Watchtower No Blood Card
At one point Watchtower directed that vaccinations and organ transplants were not permissable for Christians, but by the 1980's both were allowed. Watchtower has also made significant changes to what it views as the acceptable use of blood. Every Jehovah's Witness should seriously consider the implications of Watchtower making such life and death doctrinal changes before deciding to refuse blood when lives are at stake.
The information contained here presents Watchtower's stance on blood as of June 2021. Considering the changes that have occurred over the last two decades, and ongoing legal difficulties experienced by Watchtower, there will likely be more easing up in coming years.
This article presents the history of Watchtower blood doctrine and compares the current stance with what the Bible says about the use of blood.
- 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 The Rabbinic principle of Pikuach Nefesh (appealed to by Jesus at Mat 12:11) dictates that the Law be superseded if it would result in loss of life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 Watchtower's changing 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
Something is disturbingly wrong when a religion teaches that sanctity for a symbol of life is more important than life itself.
A recording from the 2016 “Remain Loyal to Jehovah” regional convention shows Governing Body member Anthony Morris praising a boy that died standing firm in refusing a blood transfusion, celebrating with the audience that he will be in paradise after the resurrection.
This experience is based on the experience of 15 year old Joshua Walker, from the Awake! 1995 January 22 pp.11-15.
This pointless death is a shameful modern day example of child sacrifice. This poor child had been indoctrinated to think he must refuse a blood transfusion to "respect the sanctity of life," and Morris sickeningly describes the Doctor's attempts to help the child understand that a blood transfusion would save his life as "persecution."
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.
Watchtower considers it so important to actively prevent any members taking blood that they advise all elders to constantly carry contact information for the Hospital Liaison Committee (HLC).
"HLC contact information should be carried by elders at all times. It is recommended that you enter some contact information on your mobile phone, perhaps prefixed “HLC” for ease of finding." Body of Elders Letter 2016 May 2
The HLC is to be called to advise doctors of the Watchtower stance on blood, and assist them consider alternate medical strategies. If the need for a blood transfusion is severe, elders will commonly hold a vigil with the dying Jehovah's Witness to prevent them caving in and accepting blood.
The current Watchtower position to allow blood fractions is unscriptural and inaccurate. 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, allowing the consumption of one blood component and not another. Biblical blood law was not about nit picking but respect for life.
Watchtower has concocted a concept that blood is comprised of 4 components, which can be then broken into fractions. Blood, or these four components must not be used, but fractions may be. 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 used as a reference is not a medical textbook and is a simplification of blood. As shown in Medical textbooks such as Modern Blood Banking and Transfusion Practices, 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." Denise M. Harmening, Ph.D.
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
Blood 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. Bible writers made no such distinction. Blood as a whole either could or could not be used.
Without any Scriptural basis, Watchtower has determined that medical use of whole blood and some blood fractions is wrong, but use of other fractions is acceptable.
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,' which can be further divided into fractions. Use of blood components is said to be unchristian, but when these components are broken into "fractions" their use is acceptable. (w04 6/15 p.21) Watchtower's distinction of fractions from components is to make it appear that a component is somehow different and hence more of a violation when used than a fraction.
There is no basis to such a distinction, and 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 is an excerpt from a 2007 letter sent to a Witness who had requested an explanation of this stance. Watchtower deceptively claims its' position has been consistent on the matter. Equally dishonest is the claim that blood naturally settles into four components.
Blood does not naturally settle into four primary components, this only occurs if blood is put through a centrifuge with additives.
Left image - Awake! 1990 Oct 22 p.4
Right Image - wikipedia.org creative commons image (KnuteKnudsen)
Watchtower's reduction of blood into plasma, red cells, white cells and platelets is common one, 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 is 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)
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 four 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 ..."
Since blood is not comprised of four components, but multiple fractions, Watchtower admits doctors may not accept this concept.
"Some doctors may view the four main parts of blood as fractions. Therefore, you may need to explain your personal decision not to accept transfusions of whole blood or its four main parts, namely, red cells, white cells, platelets, and plasma." How to Remain in God's Love" (2017) p.246
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 illogical on two grounds. Although an alcoholic is advised not to drink alcohol, it would not prevent a doctor administering them an alcohol based disinfectant to a laceration. Furthermore, when blood is introduced directly into the veins as a transfusion it circulates and functions as blood, whereas orally ingested blood does not enter the circulation as blood, since during digestion it is broken down into simple components. On the other hand, whether a person orally ingests alcohol or injects it, it enters into the bloodstream as alcohol, as it is not broken down during the digestive process in the stomach.
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. If had even been promoted that a transfusion can lead to a personality change. Consider the following statements;
"The point is an interesting one, and that it may apply in the matter of blood transfusions is testified to by medical doctors. For example, in his book Who Is Your Doctor and Why? Doctor Alonzo Jay Shadman says: "The blood in any person is in reality the person himself. It contains all the peculiarities of the individual from whence it comes. This includes hereditary taints, disease susceptibilities, 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." And Dr. Americo Valerio, Brazilian doctor and surgeon for over forty years, agrees. "Moral insanity, sexual perversions, repression, inferiority complexes, petty crimes - these often follow in the wake of blood transfusion," he says." Watchtower 1961 Sep 1 p.564
"Some say blood transfusions are harmless. Do you believe that? For 40 years Rober Khoury was known as an honest man. Then he was given a blood transfusion after a fall. "I learned the donor was a thief," Khoury told police. "When I recovered I found I had a terrible desire to steal." And steal he did." Awake! 1969 Jul 8 p.30
"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
Watchtower claims that their stance against blood transfusions has been vindicated, because blood transfusions pass on diseases, such as AIDS. (Watchtower Jun 15 1985 p.30) This is a contradictory position because it fails to mention 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
How seriously should a person take the medical teachings of Watchtower from the early1900'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.
Eating blood was not banned until 1927, under the guidance of Rutherford, when the Watchtower made the claim that the covenant with Noah was everlasting.
""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." Watchtower 1927 Dec p.371
However, blood transfusions continued to be allowed, and in 1945, the Dutch edition of Consolation criticised prohibition of blood transfusions as lacking mercy.
"When we lose our life because we refuse inoculations, that does not bear witness as a justification of Jehovah's name. God never issued regulations which prohibit the use of drugs, inoculations or blood transfusions. It is an invention of people, who, like the Pharisees, leave Jehovah's mercy and love aside." Consolation 1945 Sep p.16 (translated from Dutch.)
The Watchtower 1945 Jul 1, pp.199-200 contained the first discussion that God's prohibition also applied 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. 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.
Watchtower did not wait until the 1940's to introduce this decree on the basis that this was when blood transfusions were introduced to medicine, as blood transfusions were being used well before Watchtower's incorporation. 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 the 1951 Watchtower July 1, pages 414-416, it was clarified in detail that Jehovah's Witness must not use blood in any form.
The 1951 Awake! October 22 included an experience of Jehovah's Witness parents refusing a blood transfusion for their dying infant, quoting the mother as saying;
""I've always wanted a little girl. But we can't break Jehovah's law. He gave us these commands. He told us if we follow them, we will live. If we do not, he will cast us off. We believe it is more important to carry out his commands than to deliberately break them by giving my baby blood."" Awake! 1951 Oct 22 p.4
Transfusing blood remained a conscience matter during the 1950's 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
Watchtower 2004 Jun 15 pp.19-23 contains a detailed discussion on blood, and includes a chart to show 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. This same concept appeared again in 2006 and 2008.
"Keep Yourselves in God's Love" (2008) p.216
In other words, when blood is broken down into small enough components, 100% of it can be transfused by Jehovah's Witnesses.
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)