Blood Transfusion – is it a meal?

DinnermealWhen the Watchtower Society established its transfusion ban it argued that a blood transfusion was the same as eating blood. In those days, when they also prohibited vaccinations and serums, it established the rhetoric that is still used today:

“Many say receiving a transfusion is not like eating blood. Is this view sound?

A patient in the hospital may be fed through the mouth, through the nose, or through the veins. When sugar solutions are given intravenously, it is called intravenous feeding. So the hospital’s own terminology recognizes as feeding the process of putting nutrition into one’s system via the veins. Hence the attendant administering the transfusion is feeding the patient blood through the veins, and the patient receiving it is eating it through his veins.” (The Watchtower, July 1, 1951, p. 415)

Present day reasoning remains essentially the same: a blood transfusion is eating through veins.

Some persons may reason that getting a blood transfusion is not actually eating. But is it not true that when a patient is unable to eat through his mouth, doctors often feed him by the same method in which a blood transfusion is administered? Examine the scriptures carefully and notice that they tell us to keep free from blood and to abstain from blood. (Acts 15:20, 29) What does this mean? If a doctor were to tell you to abstain from alcohol, would that mean simply that you should not take it through your mouth but that you could transfuse it directly into your veins? Of course not! So, too, abstaining from blood means not taking it into our bodies at all. (The Watchtower, June 1, 1969, p. 326-7)

If you have been a Witness for any period of time, you have heard this analogy many times. Is it a fair one? Not really, because alcohol and blood are very different fluids. Alcohol is already in a form that can be utilized by the bodies cells and absorbed as a food or nutrient. Blood, on the other hand, is completely different. Once transfused, it is not digested or utilized as a food. It remains the same fluid tissue with the same form and function.

For blood to be utilized as food, it would first have to be literally eaten and then pass through the digestive tract. That these are the facts can be readily seen from simply considering why it is that a doctor would prescribe a blood transfusion. Would he do it because a patient is malnourished and needs a good meal? Of course not. He orders the transfusion because the patient lacks the ability to transport oxygen to his cells in sufficient quantity.

On this argument rests the entire blood prohibition. Is the argument valid?

dripDefinitely not! Consider the case where two patients are admitted to a hospital because they are not able to eat and thus sustain themselves. One patient is given a blood transfusion, whereas the other is given I.V. Dextrose or the equivalent. Which one will live? Obviously, it is the one given I.V. Dextrose which can actually be used by the body as food. The patient given the blood transfusion will die because blood is not food, but simply the vehicle used to transport it.

As seen earlier, the WTS has appealed to certain doctors to support their ideas that a blood transfusion is eating:

“It is of no consequence that the blood is taken into the body through the veins instead of the mouth. Nor does the claim by some that it is not the same as intravenous feeding carry weight. The fact is that it nourishes or sustains the life of the body. In harmony with this is a statement in the book Hemorrhage and Transfusion, by George W. Crile, A.M., M.D., who quotes a letter from Denys, French physician and early researcher in the field of transfusions. It says: ‘In performing transfusion it is nothing else than nourishing by a shorter road than ordinary – that is to say, placing in the veins blood all made in place of taking food which only turns to blood after several changes.’” (The Watchtower, Sept. 15, 1961, p. 558)

What the Society does not tell its readers, is that this doctor, Jean Baptiste Denys, lived in the 17th century. (It turns out that Dr. Denys never said the words attributed to him by the Watchtower). Medical science long ago abandoned this idea. Later, the Society tried to appeal to another authority, the Dane Thomas Bartholin, but now they at least admit he also lived in the 17th century. Why has the WTS found no support for this peculiar idea among more recent medical experts? Because there are none. Not even the medical doctors who are themselves Jehovah’s Witnesses will ruin their reputation by supporting this claim.

The simple fact is that a blood transfusion is an organ transplant, not nutrition.

It took a long time, but this fact is now admitted by the Society:

“As cardiovascular surgeon Denton Cooley notes: ‘A blood transfusion is an organ transplant.’” (Awake! Oct. 22, 1990, p. 9)

“When doctors transplant a heart, a liver, or another organ, the recipient’s immune system may sense the foreign tissue and reject it. Yet, a transfusion is a tissue transplant.” (How Can Blood Save Your Life, 1990, p. 8; emphasis in original)

In times past the Society would argue that a blood transfusion was objectionable because it constituted the eating of blood:

“Each time the prohibition of blood is mentioned in the Scriptures it is in connection with taking itas food, and so it is as a nutrient that we are concerned with in its being forbidden.” W58 9/15 575 Questions from Readers

When they finally caught up with the previous sixty years of scientific knowledge, in the mid 1960’s, and they came to appreciate that blood transfusions are not a “feeding on blood,” they were faced with a dilemma. For the last few decades, the society has tried to get around this problem by referring to blood transfusions, not as eating blood, but as a sustaining of one’s life my means of blood. This is an unwarranted insertion of a concept that is not scriptural as we have already seen. Ironically, the blood components that the society does allow are taken precisely to sustain ones life.

As already discussed, for blood to become food, it will have to be eaten, to pass the digestive system and be broken down into components that can be used by the body’s cells. This does not happen during a blood transfusion. The blood retains its function as blood, and is used as it was used in the donor’s body: to transport nourishment and oxygen to the different parts of the body. A blood transfusion is not nourishing any more than a kidney transplant is.

As we see, the Society knows this. Then why does the leadership keep claiming that a blood transfusion is the same as eating when there is no support whatsoever for this claim, and when it also says it is an organ transplant? Note this:

A blood transfusion cannot be an organ transplant and a meal at the same time!

As we have seen earlier, the WTS prohibited organ transplants between 1967 and 1980, claiming it was cannibalism. Even though this position was obviously unbiblical and illogical, it was at least consistent with the blood prohibition. At that time, it could be argued that:

eating a kidney is like having a kidney transplant

eating blood is like having a blood transfusion

However, when the ban on organ transplants was lifted, this changed:

eating a kidney is not like having a kidney transplant

eating blood is like having a blood transfusion

The inconsistency of retaining the ban on blood transfusions while lifting the ban on organ transplants cannot be lost on the Governing Body in Brooklyn.

More recently, the connection between the transfusion of blood and the eating of blood has been made in more subtle ways. For example in the Reasoning book on page 73 an attempt is made to establish this link by analogy:

“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?”

With substances like alcohol and certain drugs it makes no difference how they are administered because the end result, the absorption by the body, is the same. However what if the end result was not the same? Would this man in question also be prohibited from using a mouthwash or cough syrup that contained alcohol? Would he be prohibited from using alcohol as a topical antiseptic or in an after shave? The very idea is ridiculous because the purpose is entirely different. The error of this analogy can be illustrated with a similar one we like to use:

“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?”

Obviously eating and receiving an organ transplant are completely dissimilar just as the eating of blood and the transfusion of blood are in no way connected.

Why, then, did they keep the ban on blood transfusions? It is a simple fact that the Society will be hard pressed to lift this prohibition and admit that it has been a tragic misunderstanding from the start. So much literal blood has been spilled, so many young and old victims have been hailed as heroes, and the brothers and sisters have gone through so much pain, court cases, fears and losses that there would be an unprecedented outcry among Jehovah’s Witnesses and outsiders if it were suddenly lifted, and yet that is what must happen.

This is well-known inside the walls of the Watchtower Organization. It is interesting to observe that the Watchtower and Awake! magazines eagerly report any indications that medical science may one day make the necessity of blood transfusions a thing of the past. To give one example: news items about development of “artificial blood” have appeared numerous times since 1970. From the Watchtower Publications Index 1930-1985 we find the following entry under the popular topic “blood substitutes,” showing that this otherwise rarely covered topic had been covered in sixteen articles:

“‘artificial blood’: w85 4/15 21; w83 11/1 23; w82 5/1 7; g82 6/22 26; g81 6/22 29-30; g80 2/22 21-3; g80 8/8 29-30; w79 11/15 29; g79 8/8 31; g79 10/8 29; g78 2/8 29; g74 6/22 22; g73 7/8 31; g72 6/22 29-30; g70 1/22 30; g70 2/8 30” [w is the literature code for The Watchtower magazine; g is the code for the Awake! magazine]. The 2013 Watchtower Library indexes a staggering 216 occurrences.

This is only a small sample of the WTS articles dedicated to “blood substitutes.” It is a fact that the Society uses enormous resources to find alternatives to blood transfusions to minimize casualties. Even more, the fact that suitable replacements for blood transfusions have not been forthcoming as the Society had hoped have caused it to slowly abandon its position on blood, but in a way that many had not become aware of until AJWRB began publishing and advocating for change back in 1998.

We believe it is accurate to say that the Watchtower Society no longer really believes that blood transfusions are wrong. The work done to minimize casualties by permitting all blood fractions is a step in the right direction but the policy continues to cost many lives and much suffering – and for what purpose? Primarily to maintain the organizational image and prestige of the governing body.

Sadly, even at this late date (2014) the Watchtower continues to perpetuate the myth that a blood transfusion equals “eating blood”. 1

While the Society is waiting for medical science to save it from this deadly dilemma, it has demonstrated its lack of faith in its own doctrines by compromising on the principles it claims to uphold. Why should you or your children die for something their actions demonstrate they don’t even believe in?

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