The Watchtower Society has not been content with giving “Biblical” reasons for prohibiting blood transfusions. Articles and publications dealing with this question are just as concerned with emphasizing the dangers of blood transfusions and the advantages of some alternatives to blood transfusions. Playing to the Witness community, the Watchtower and Awake! magazines are filled with horror stories and snide remarks emphasizing the danger. As a result, most of Jehovah’s Witnesses have plenty to say about the issue, and believe the Watchtower policy protects them from Hepatitis, AIDS and other horrible dangers of blood transfusions.
Despite having no expertise in medicine, most will also insist that there are always (usually superior) alternatives to blood transfusions. This is because of the heavy propaganda from the Society:
“It is not surprising that transfusing such a complex substance might, as one surgeon put it, “confuse” the body’s immune system. In fact, a blood transfusion can suppress immunity for as long as a year. To some, this is the most threatening aspect of transfusions.
Then there are infectious diseases as well. They have exotic names, such as Chagas’ disease and cytomegalovirus. Effects range from fever and chills to death. Dr. Joseph Feldschuh of the Cornell University of Medicine says that there is 1 chance in 10 of getting some sort of infection from a transfusion. It is like playing Russian roulette with a ten-chamber revolver. Recent studies have also shown that blood transfusions during cancer surgery may actually increase the risk of recurrence of the cancer.
No wonder a television news program claimed that a blood transfusion could be the biggest obstacle to recovery from surgery. Hepatitis infects hundreds of thousands and kills many more transfusion recipients than AIDS does, but it gets little of the publicity. No one knows the extent of the deaths, but economist Ross Eckert says that it may be the equivalent of a DC-10 airliner full of people crashing every month.” (Awake! Oct. 22, 1990, p. 9)
Historically, the arguments are nearly identical to those used by Watchtower leaders against vaccination programs and organ transplants. While there are negative side effects of vaccinations, informed persons agree that on the whole they have been of tremendous benefit to humanity. Even though some individuals have died, vaccinations have saved millions of lives. One would be hard pressed to find anyone – JW or not – who would not agree that vaccinations have been a good thing.
The Watchtower has not been content just to exaggerate real threats. In line with claims about alleged personality changes as a result of vaccinations and organ transplants, it appealed to the same sort of quack scientists:
“Criminals in jail are given the opportunity to donate their blood. For example, the New York Times of April 6, 1961, reported: “Inmates of Sing Sing Prison at Ossining will give blood to the Red Cross today.” A commendable act? Perhaps not as beneficial to their fellow men as the community is led to believe. . . . 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.”
… Dr. Américo Valério, 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. Yet it is acknowledged in the public press that organizations whose blood supply is considered reliable obtain blood for transfusion from criminals who are known to have such characteristics.” (The Watchtower, Sept. 15, 1961, p. 564)
So according to the Watchtower a blood transfusion can give you a criminal’s personality. We ask what is the more astonishing: that the Watchtower actually taught this kind of rubbish or that it was able to dig up “experts” who agreed with them? We know first had that this quackery and fear mongering was believed by many Witnesses and probably still is by many older ones.
Watchtower writers had a field day when the AIDS epidemic came on the scene. Regarding one such discussion of AIDS in the 1990 Watchtower Publication How Blood Can Save Your Life, Attorney Kerry Louderback-Wood explains: “A reader may thus conclude after reading the medical risk section that today’s blood, given the addition of new diseases is far deadlier than 1 per 13,000 bottles. If the Society’s argument is sound, today’s diseases would effectively turn blood into medical poison. The Society distorts the actual risks of contracting Hepatitis or HIV. Informing its readers is important because omitting relevant facts can also amount to a misrepresentation where it leads the readers to a false conclusion.” 1
One can click on the link above to view the Watchtower publication in question and note that the reference is from 1960 making it more than five decades old hence completely out of date. Yet the Watchtower continues to publish it as a reliable estimate for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Despite the fact that the Watchtower has gone to great lengths to minimize damage to the Jehovah’s Witness community by allowing more and more blood components to be used in treatment, the blood prohibition remains a primary cause of the strained relationship between Jehovah’s Witnesses and medical professionals, and is a major reason they are widely viewed as a dangerous religious group.
A detailed analysis of the actual risks associated with blood transfusions will be covered in another section.