Watchtower Position Crumbles

For those who have spent some time studying the Watchtower Society’s (WTS) position on the use of blood, one of the most troubling aspects is their allowance of all the various components of plasma. Thus Witnesses may elect to accept the various Immunoglobulins, blood serums, blood clotting factors, albumin and so forth. They may not, however take all of them at the same time.

How does the WTS justify such a position? Especially since they were once so opposed to the use of blood fractions as this quote amply demonstrates:

“Whether whole or fractional, one’s own or someone else’s, transfused or injected, it is wrong.” – The Watchtower 09/15/1961 p. 559

In the following quotation taken from the Watchtower of June 1, 1990, pages 30 & 31, you will note how they justify the use of blood fractions:

“It is significant that the blood system of a pregnant woman is separate from that of the fetus in her womb; their blood types are often different. The mother does not pass her blood into the fetus. Formed elements (cells) from the mother’s blood do not cross the placental barrier into the fetus’ blood, nor does the plasma as such. In fact, if by some injury the mother’s and the fetus’ blood mingle, health problems can later develop (Rh or ABO incompatibility). However, some substances from the plasma cross into the fetus’ circulation. Do plasma proteins, such as immune globulin and albumin? Yes, some do.

A pregnant woman has an active mechanism by which some immune globulin moves from the mother’s blood to the fetus’. Because this natural movement of antibodies into the fetus occurs in all pregnancies, babies are born with a degree of normal protective immunity to certain infections.

It is similar with albumin, which doctors may prescribe as a treatment for shock or certain other conditions. Researchers have proved that albumin from the plasma is also transported, though less efficiently, across the placenta from a mother into her fetus.

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.”

fetus

Photo: Lennart Nilsson

The line of reasoning here used by the Society is quite apparent. The “natural movement” of these various allowed components across the placental barrier is viewed as a basis for the Christian in accepting these blood components.

Elders and Hospital Liaison Committee member’s will often make statements to the effect that the “natural movement” of these blood components is evidence that God allows the use of these blood products since it would be unimaginable for God to break his own laws on blood.

The members of the Associated Jehovah’s Witnesses for Reform on Blood agree. It would be “unimaginable” for God to break his own laws. If various components of blood actually pass through the placental barrier, either from the mother to the fetus or vice versa, than it would seem entirely reasonable that God would have no objection to our using these blood components in this way.

It is interesting to note that the medical literature contains a great deal of information on this subject. Some of it is available on the Internet, some is not. In either case, we will provide complete references so that you can research this material for yourself.

We begin by noting the presence of fetal blood within the mother’s circulatory system is an established fact demonstrated by numerous medical studies. Is this a new discovery of which the Society is not aware? That is hardly imaginable. Fetal cells were first recovered from maternal blood as reported by Walknowska et al in 1969. 1 Additionally, as early as 1961 the Society acknowledged this fact:

While there is no direct flow of blood between the mother and the fetus, yet by osmosis there is some transfer of blood between the mother and the baby through the placenta. – Blood, Medicine and the Law of God, 1961, p. 25

P.C.R. technology has facilitated additional research in this field of study, primarily for the purpose of screening for birth defects or prenatal diagnosis. This technology allows us a clear look at what is happening with respects to exchanges of blood components between the mother and the fetus. This technology and the resulting knowledge became available prior to the 6/90 WT article quoted above.

A 1993 article in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” references two studies involving P.C.R. technology reported on in 1989 and 1990, and goes on to say:

“Thus fetal DNA sequences indeed exist in maternal blood. Among the various candidate cells, the most promising appear to be fetal nucleated red blood cells. We isolated nucleated red blood cells on the basis of flow-sorting for the transferring receptor and glycophorin-A” 2(italics ours)

Here we find evidence that red blood cells do indeed pass from the fetus to the mother. The significance of this finding for the Watchtower blood doctrine can hardly be overstated. Using the reasoning and logic employed by the WTS itself, what further evidence does one need to conclude that God would not object to transfusion of red cells?

The following study comes from the Baylor College of Medicine. Please note:

“Fetal cells unequivocally exist in and can be isolated from maternal blood. Erythroblasts, trophoblasts, granulocytes and lymphocytes have all been isolated by various density gradient and flow sorting techniques.” 3 (italics ours)

Erythroblasts are immature red blood cells, and lymphocytes are white blood cells. Both are forbidden blood components by the Watchtower Society, despite the fact that they clearly are among those components that have a “natural movement” across the placental barrier.

As an interesting side point, this study notes that fetal cells can persist in the mothers blood stream for extended periods of time. In one case fetal cells were still present twenty-seven years after child-birth. How appropriate then that we think of a blood transfusion as a cellular organ transplant which becomes part of the body.

As reported in “Early Human Development,” fetal nucleated cells in maternal blood has been demonstrated by many groups. Fetal cells are detected in the mother’s circulation as early as four weeks and five days after conception, and are present during all three trimesters of pregnancy; gradually increasing as gestation progresses. Also of great significance is that the majority of cord blood samples reveal the mother’s cell’s are also present in fetal circulation. So we have a dual exchange of blood components more than 50% of the time.4

Conclusion

How can the WTS continue to ignore the facts, and insist on adherence to a policy that routinely results in avoidable death? Here we have seen how the scientific facts clearly disprove the basis upon which the Society allows some blood fractions while not allowing others. Some of the questions that remain unanswered are:

1. Did the WTS know the facts all along and make a conscious choice to misrepresent the truth?

2. Did the WTS negligently fail to do careful research when establishing a policy that millions would rely upon in choosing their medical care?

3. Will the WTS exhibit the moral courage to set matters straight? (In 2000 – likely in response to pressure from AJWRB – the WTS modified its blood policy to allow all blood fractions. Yet they still continue to prohibit red cells which as we have seen above are able to pass the placental barrier.)

4. How many more lives will slip away in the meantime?

Note: Those considering independent legal actions against the WTS will want to take note of the potential for the WTS being held liable for negligently providing inaccurate medical advice.

 

Notes:
1. Walknowska,J., Conte, F.A., Grumback, M.M. (1969). Practical and theoretical implications of fetal/maternal lymphocyte transfer, Lancet, 1, 119-1122.  
2. Simpson JL; Elias S., JAMA 1993 Nov. 17;270(19):2357-61
3.  Isolating Fetal Cells in Maternal Circulation For Prenatal Diagnosis by Joe Leigh Simpson and Sherman Elias; Prenatal Diagnosis, Vol. 14: 1229-1242 (1994)
4. Early Human Development 47 Suppl. (1996) S73-S77

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