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Jehovah's Witnesses & Blood Transfusions

This article shows the inconsistent history surrounding Watchtower rules concerning blood. Blood transfusions are shown to be Scripturally acceptable at Blood Doctrine.


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.

It is also admitted that this ruling leads to loss of Witness lives.

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 result is a stance that is:

The Watchtower stance regarding blood usage has been inconsistent throughout the last 100 years. Just as the Watchtower revoked its ruling that organ transplants are wrong in the 1980's, over the last few years it has made significant changes to the acceptable use of blood. Can such contradictions really be attributed to Jehovah's direction?

Every Jehovah's Witness should seriously consider the implications of the Watchtower making life and death doctrinal changes before deciding to refuse blood when lives are at stake.


Inconsistencies with Current Blood Policy
Since 2000, a Jehovah's Witness may not donate blood, may not store their own blood and may not have a blood transfusion. However, they are permitted certain blood fractions, such as immunoglobulin and hemoglobulin.
    "Thus, Jehovah’s 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

    "The above material shows that Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse transfusions of both whole blood and its primary blood components. The Bible directs Christians to ‘abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from fornication.’ (Acts 15:29) 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

This is an inconsistent stance, as can be understood by contemplating the following questions.

  • If it is wrong for a Witness to donate blood, who do the blood fractions they use come from?

  • If blood must be poured on the ground, where are the blood fractions they use derived from?

  • If abstaining from blood does not allow taking a "major" fraction, why does it allow a fraction of a fraction?

  • If blood fractions were always acceptable to Jehovah, who is responsible for the Witnesses that died refusing them, due to previous Watchtower policy?

Watchtower Stance

Jehovah's Witnesses come under tremendous criticism for applying their stand on blood to blood transfusions. The Bible never mentions blood transfusions, as this practice has only become common in the 20th century. The Watchtower reasons that if the Mosaic Law said 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 for why blood transfusions were banned was that it was thought to be a nutrient in the same way that food is.

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.

Medical professionals find this argument illogical. Although an alcoholic is advised not to drink alcohol, it would not prevent a doctor administering alcohol based medicine in case of a medical emergency. Furthermore, when blood is introduced directly into the veins as a transfusion it circulates and functions as blood. Similarly, when a person orally ingests alcohol it is absorbed as alcohol into the bloodstream. The alcohol is not broken down by the stomach and for this reason it is the same as injecting it directly. On the other hand, orally eaten blood when digested does not enter the circulation as blood, but is broken down into simple components.

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:

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 illogical 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;

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 cannot be stored for a transfusion, then the storing of blood and processing it into fractions should also be disallowed.

An illustration on stealing explains the inconsistency of the blood standard. 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?

This double standard has 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. Consider the following statements;

Changing Standard

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.

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.

Eating blood was not banned until 1927, under the guidance of Rutherford. (Watchtower 1927 Dec p.371) How seriously should a person take the medical teachings of the Watchtower from the 1920's and 30'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.

Blood transfusions have been conducted for hundreds of years, and were successfully used to treat humans in the early 1800's. ABO blood types were identified in 1930 and the first Blood Bank was established in 1932. (bloodbook.com/trans-history.html Oct 2008) By "the 1940's, scientists began to separate blood into its components." (Awake 90 Oct 22 p.4) Yet, it was not until 1945 that the Watchtower extended its blood censorship to transfusions, over 70 years after the commencement of the Watchtower Society. If this is such a critical doctrine, one must wonder why God would wait so many decades before revealing it to the Governing Body.

In 1951 it was clarified in great detail that a Witness must not use blood in any form, but it remained a conscience matter and was not a disfellowshipping offence.

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.

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

Vaccinations were originally acceptable.

1921 - In 1921 Witnesses were forbidden vaccinations (Golden Age 1921 October 12 p.17)

1952 - After 30 years the Watchtower Society returned to its original position, once again allowing vaccinations. (Watchtower 1952 December 15 p.764)

Organ transplants

Organ transplants were originally considered "wonders of modern surgery." (Awake! 1949 December 22)

1967 - Transplants forbidden to Witnesses as cannibalism. This continued to be the case through the 1970's. (Watchtower 1967 November 15 pp.702-704)

1980 - The Society overturned the decision and transplants became acceptable once again. (Watchtower 1980 March 15 p.31)

Eating Blood

Initially blood could be eaten. (Watchtower 1892 November 15 pp.349-352, Watchtower 1909 April 15 pp.116-117)

1927 - Blood was no longer to be eaten (Watchtower 1927 December p.371)

Blood Serum

1954 - Unacceptable.

1958 - Acceptable (Watchtower 1958 September 15 p.575)

1963 - Unacceptable (Watchtower 1963 February 15 p.124)

1965 - Acceptable (Watchtower 1964 November 15 pp.680-3)

1974 - Conscience matter (Watchtower 1974 June 1 p.352)

Hemodilution

1972 - Unacceptable.

1982 - Objectionable.

1983 - Acceptable.

Blood transfusions

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 January 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.

Gradually becoming allowed again

1982 - Blood components are listed with some minor components allowed. Major components and hemodilution are forbidden. (Awake! 1982 June 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.

2004 - Hemoglobin, a major component of blood by weight is specifically permitted - In the Watchtower 2004 June 15 it is shown graphically that transfusions of whole blood and transfusions of the 'major' components of blood are forbidden. 'Major' components are stated to be red cells, white cells, plasma and platelets. However, fractions of these four components may be used. In other words, when blood is broken down into small enough components 100% of it can be transfused by a Jehovah's Witness.

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.

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.

In 1990 the consideration for which minor components can be use was related to placenta transfer.

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.

Current Standard

The Apostles had no physiology manuals and made no distinction between blood components. Blood referred to just that; blood. No distinction was made to allow for the separation of blood into fractions, allowing the consumption of one blood component and not another.

The current Watchtower position to allow blood fractions is unscriptural and inaccurate. To justify what these major components are, the 2004 Watchtower article contains the following quote;

The book the Society chose to use as a reference is not a medical textbook and is a simplification of the major components of blood. As shown in Medical textbooks such as Modern Blood Banking and Transfusion Practices by Denise M. Harmening, Ph.D., the major components of blood can be considered to include;

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.

The 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". Use of these components is unchristian but when these components are broken into "fractions" their use is acceptable. (w04 6/15 p. 21)

This Watchtower distinction of fractions from components is used to make it appear that a component is somehow different and hence more of a violation when used than a fraction. 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 classification the Watchtower uses of blood being composed of the four primary fractions of plasma, red cells, white cells and platelets is a common one. It is accurate, albeit a basic simplification that has arisen from what results when blood is processed through a centrifuge. The result is:

This classification is only 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. (http://www.mcghealth.org/ greystoneData/ content.asp?pageid=P02316)

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." http://chemistry.about.com /cs/5/f/blbloodcomp.htm

Simply put, blood plasma is a liquid made up of water, water red cell, white cells, platelets, proteins, glucose, mineral ions, hormones, carbon dioxide, immunoglobulins, growth factors, albumin, plus a host of other substances.

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 4 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 Watchtower 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. 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 the use of blood use, or not allow it in any form.

The Watchtower blood issue supposedly centres on the sacredness of blood. The Watchtower 1961 September 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.

View of the Medical Fraternity

In general, doctors are encouraged to follow the wishes of their patients, and many will respect the stand that a Jehovah's Witness will make for their convictions. Doctors act in the best interests of their patients and recognise that blood carries risks and will avoid it where considered possible.

However, blood is at times deemed essential for survival and though the Watchtower questions the ethics of the Medical fraternity, they should not ignore that a doctor has financial incentive to act in a manner that gives patients their best chance for survival. Increasing litigation insurance costs ensure doctors recommend blood because they believe it increases a person's chance of survival. As of 2010, there are no alternatives for red blood cells; this is still the only known way for the body to successfully carry oxygen. rsc.org states that "Human blood substitutes have been in the pipeline since the 1980s. But, for a combination of scientific and political reasons, there are none currently on the market in either Europe or the US."

Many physicians understand that the Watchtower rules on blood related procedures are inconsistent;

Conclusion

The Bible emphasises respect for life. At Matthew 12:11 Jesus showed that it was more important to save the life of an animal than to follow the Mosaic Law. How much more important it is to save the life of a human than follow the law on blood transfusions; legislation that the Watchtower organization did not establish until 1945.

Christian scholars understand that the Mosaic Law was done away with at Jesus death and that Acts 15 only applied to congregations with a mix of Judaizers and Gentiles. Russell and the original Jehovah's Witnesses recognised this for almost half the history of the Watchtower Society. Jehovah's Witnesses currently misuse Acts to claim modern day Christians must not have blood and then erringly revert to the Mosaic Law for formulating the strict details on their blood doctrine.

Due to the variety of standards that the Watchtower Society has had over the years in regards to blood, vaccinations, transplants and other medical procedures a person is entitled to ask:

Can it be said that God's holy spirit has directed the Watchtower Society to this controversial position on blood transfusions? An examination of the history of this doctrine shows that this can not be considered the case.

Witness lives have been lost following laws on blood, vaccinations and organ transplants that were later superseded. A gross injustice has been done to members and it is unfortunate that Jehovah's Witnesses are willing to die for a doctrine without knowing its history or alternate Scriptural viewpoints. These deaths are the ultimate sacrifice for an Organization, placing blood on the hands of Watchtower leaders.