Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Really Abstain From Blood?

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Many Jehovah’s Witnesses sincerely believe that it is a gross sin to accept a blood transfusion, since the Bible states that we must “abstain from blood.” (Acts 15:29) It is quite understandable that many are confused by the position taken by the Watchtower Society (WTS) with respect to the various blood components or blood products like albumin, erythropoietins, vaccines, immunoglobulins, and hemophiliac treatments. It does not seem possible to explain why it is a violation of God’s law to accept plasma, platelets, red and white cells when all the fractions of these are permitted by the WTS. These contradictions have caused a number of elders and Hospital Liaison Committee Members to quietly resign.

Additionally, the trend in recent years has been to allow more and more blood products. The June 15, 2000 Watchtower, Questions From Readers article opened the door to the use of hemoglobin since it is fractionated from red blood cells. This coupled with the Watchtower Society’s statement to the European Commission on Human Rights that there are no “controls or sanctions” for a Witness who accepts blood and that minors may not carry “Advance Medical Directives” prohibiting blood transfusions are significant indications that the WTS may significantly modify their blood policy or abandon it altogether at some point in the future. Additionally, in April of 2000 the WTS admitted that it was no longer disfellowshipping members who accepted blood or prohibited blood components.1~2

“…when it comes to fractions of any of the primary components, each Christian, after careful and prayerful meditation, must conscientiously decide for himself.” The Watchtower 6/15/00 p.29-31.

Important questions go unanswered

This illustration is taken from the October 22, 1990 issue of Awake! You will note that plasma constitutes 55% of the blood. Since the Watchtower Society allows Witnesses to accept the separate components of plasma, it is only reasonable to ask why they forbid the use of plasma itself?

This illustration is taken from the October 22, 1990 issue of Awake! You will note that plasma constitutes 55% of the blood. Since the Watchtower Society allows Witnesses to accept the separate components of plasma, isn’t it only reasonable to ask why they forbid the use of plasma itself?

Hospital Liaison Committee members have been asked this question by doctors from around the world. They in turn have sought answers from Brooklyn Bethel and various Watchtower branches. Thus far they are simply told to drop the matter and not to question any further. Why can’t the WTS answer this important question?

Between August 1998 and October 2000 these issues were thoroughly debated by WTS representatives and a physician and a dissident JW associated with AJWRB in the Journal of Medical Ethics. We believe every Jehovah’s Witness should read these articles since they demonstrate the WTS’s inability to address these important issues.

Since nowhere in the Bible can one find any support for allowing certain blood fractions or products, it is reasonable to ask:

Where does the Watchtower Society find biblical support for their partial ban on blood?

“Learning from Jehovah God’s creation… baby “….practically all blood components pass through the placental barrier.” ~ Photo:  Lennart Nilsson

Current Watchtower teaching is that the allowed blood components are limited to only those that pass through the placental barrier during pregnancy and that on this basis a Witness may accept them in good conscience.3  The reasoning is that since Jehovah God allows these blood components to pass from mother to child, it is logical to conclude that God wouldn’t break his own law. This might seem reasonable were it not for the fact that medical science has shown that practically all blood components pass through the placental barrier.4

Are only the smallest blood components permitted?

Sometimes it is argued that the blood components allowed by the Watchtower Society are tiny fractions of blood. This line of argument seems impossible to sustain since albumin, which is found in blood plasma and approved for use by the Watchtower Society, makes up a greater percentage of the blood volume (2.2%) than forbidden blood components like white blood cells (1%), and platelets (0.17%), which Witnesses must reject. Furthermore, hemoglobin is a huge blood product weighing in at 14.8% of blood volume. Additionally, hemophiliac treatments (which have been long permitted) require the collection and storage of massive quantities of blood (up to 2500 blood donors for a single treatment), yet the Watchtower Society forbids Witnesses from storing their own blood. Why does a double standard exist?5

Watchtower Society policy permits the use of numerous major blood components. This is easily demonstrated by any serious examination of blood transfusion medicine.

Learning from the context of Biblical statements regarding blood

If one takes the time to carefully study all of the Biblical accounts regarding blood, it becomes quite clear that whenever the wrongful use of blood is mentioned, it is always in the context of eating blood, as the Watchtower itself has acknowledged at various times.

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. – The Watchtower 9/15/58, p. 575]

Is a blood transfusion a feeding on blood?

At one time the Watchtower Society taught that it was.6 Then in the mid-1960s they learned that transfused blood is not digested but retained in the body much like a transplanted organ.

Tragically, by then many Jehovah’s Witnesses had already died. Since the Governing Body believed that the end was extremely near,7 and that Science would soon provide an effective alternative to blood,8 the blood ban was retained, but more and more of the separate blood products were permitted.9.

Since the Governing Body believed that the end was extremely near,10 and that Science would soon provide an effective alternative to blood,11 the blood ban was retained, but more and more of the separate blood products were permitted.12.

blood-bag-500

The current policy has been developed in a careless fashion over the years and there are many similarities to the Watchtower’s previous bans on vaccines and organ transplants.13

Simply stated, to receive a nutritional benefit from blood, you would have to eat and digest it so that it could be broken down and used as food. No nutritional benefit accrues from a blood transfusion.

“Transfused blood cannot be used by your body as food anymore so than can a transplanted heart or kidney.” 

The Watchtower has tried to overcome this fact by arguing that a blood transfusion is no different from being fed intravenously with dextrose or alcohol. These comparisons are misleading, however, because sugar and alcohol can in fact be used by the body as food without digestion. Transfused blood cannot be used by your body as food anymore so than can a transplanted heart or kidney.

Consider two patients who are unable to eat, and are admitted to a hospital. One is given a blood transfusion and the other intravenous feedings, which one is receiving nourishment and will live? Clearly, doctors do not prescribe blood transfusions to treat malnutrition, but rather to replace something your body has lost, usually the red cells needed to transport oxygen and keep you alive.

Since it cannot be established that a blood transfusion is a feeding on blood or the equivalent of eating blood, then the critical link necessary to Biblically support the Watchtower blood policy does not exist.

How does the Watchtower Society justify their partial ban on blood?

No reputable modern doctor or scientist would state that a blood transfusion is a feeding on blood, or the equivalent of eating blood, but rather an organ or liquid tissue transplant as the Society itself now acknowledges.14 To overcome this fact the Watchtower has created a new law for Witnesses by stating that it’s wrong to sustain life by means of blood. The problem here is that nowhere in the Bible do we find such a restriction on blood stated in those terms. Is eating and sustaining life the same as the Watchtower argues? Well, there are many things that we do to sustain our lives like drinking, breathing, sleeping, etc. Eating is just one of the things necessary to sustain life. This word shuffle is both dishonest and reckless on the Watchtower’s part, and obscures what the Bible teaches, “going beyond the things that are written.”(1 Cor. 4:6) “…the Watchtower has created a new law for Witnesses by stating that it’s wrong to sustain life by means of blood.”

Do Jehovah’s Witnesses really abstain from blood?

 “So too abstaining from blood means not taking it into your body at all.” Live Forever p. 216

Most Jehovah’s Witnesses would answer a resounding YES! But as even this brief consideration of the facts has shown, the answer is no. Can you explain why the Watchtower Society permits the use of blood products like albumin, EPO, hemoglobin, blood serums, Immunoglobulins, and hemophiliac treatments (clotting factors VIII & IX) since these are clearly taken to sustain life? How can this honestly be considered as abstaining from blood? The obvious answer is that it cannot. If the medical use of blood is wrong, we cannot pick and choose which blood fractions or products we will abstain from anymore than we can engage in a little fornication or a little idol worship. Such reasoning is seriously flawed.

The human cost of maintaining the Watchtower blood policy

In previous decades untold numbers of Jehovah’s Witnesses loyally supported the bans on vaccines and organ transplants. In some cases this loyal support cost them their lives, and we are left wondering how their families must have reacted when the Watchtower Society finally received “new light,” and reversed their previous position.15

Featured on the cover of the May 22, 1994 Awake! magazine are the photos of 26 children, ages varying up to 17 years, with the caption: “Youths Who Put God First.” Inside the magazine proclaims: “In former times thousands of youths died for putting God first.may26-94-aw They are still doing it, only today the drama is played out in hospitals and courtrooms, with blood transfusions the issue.” (page 2) The article on page 9 titled ‘Youths Who Have “Power Beyond What Is Normal”‘ tells the stories of three of these children who died after refusing blood treatment. Were their deaths truly necessary?

Loyal adherence to the blood doctrine has cost thousands of Witnesses their lives. Despite this fact, many elders, Hospital Liaison Committee members and longtime Watchtower observers believe it is only a matter of time before the organization completely reverses their blood policy, and the use of all blood products becomes a matter of conscience.

In the meantime, we encourage you to fully educate yourself on the issues so that you can make an informed and conscientious choice regarding the use of blood or blood products. Seek alternative non-blood therapies under the advice of qualified medical professionals who can best advise you as to the risks and potential benefits of both accepting or rejecting the use of all blood products, regardless of whether or not these products are presently approved for use by the Watchtower Society.

The blood doctrine has cost thousands of Witnesses their lives. Were their deaths truly necessary?

Notes:
1. Decision on Admissibility of Application 28626/95, p.22, pp.6; Information note no. 148, B. II. (a); Commission Report on Application 28626/95 adopted March 9, 1998, p.4, 17. II. The Council of Europe – European Commission of Human Rights.
2. Associated Press news story, June 22, 2000
3. Watchtower, 6/1/90 p.31.
4. Walknowska, J., Conte, F.A., Grumback, M.M. (1969). Practical and theoretical implications of fetal/maternal lymphocyte transfer, Lancet, 1, 119-1122; Simpson JL; Elias S., JAMA 1993 Nov. 17;270(19):2357-61; Isolating Fetal Cells in Maternal Circulation For Prenatal Diagnosis by Joe Leigh Simpson and Sherman Elias; Prenatal Diagnosis, Vol. 14: 1229-1242 (1994); Early Human Development 47 Suppl. (1996) S73-S77.
5. Watchtower, June 15, 1985, p. 30.
6. “Make Sure of All Things”, Revised 4/1/57, p. 47; Watchtower, Sept. 15, 1961, p. 558. Although the WTS will still occasionally imply that a blood transfusion is feeding on blood, this position has been quietly abandoned beginning in the 1960’s, and we usually read statements like “it is wrong to sustain ourselves with blood,” although this expression or idea is not found in the Scriptures.
7. Watchtower, 5/1/68, p.272 para. 7; Watchtower, Aug. 15, 1968, p. 499; The Nations Shall Know That I Am Jehovah – 1971, 2nd ed. p. 216. 
8. Awake! 6/22/72 p.29-30. 8-Awake! 6/22/82 p.25.
9. Vaccines see Golden Age, 5/1/29, p. 502, Watchtower 12/15/52 P. 764. Organ transplants see Watchtower, Nov. 15, 1967, p. 702; Watchtower, March 15, 1980, p. 31.
10. Watchtower, 5/1/68, p.272 para. 7; Watchtower, Aug. 15, 1968, p. 499; The Nations Shall Know That I Am Jehovah – 1971, 2nd ed. p. 216. 
11. Awake! 6/22/72 p.29-30. 8-Awake! 6/22/82 p.25.
12. Vaccines see Golden Age, 5/1/29, p. 502, Watchtower 12/15/52 P. 764. Organ transplants see Watchtower, Nov. 15, 1967, p. 702; Watchtower, March 15, 1980, p. 31.
13. Ibid.
14. Awake! 10/22/90, p. 9
15. Vaccines see Golden Age, 5/1/29, p. 502, Watchtower 12/15/52 P. 764. Organ transplants see Watchtower, Nov. 15, 1967, p. 702; Watchtower, March 15, 1980, p. 31.