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Blood Transfusions

JW View

 JWs reject transfusions of whole allogenic blood and its primary components (red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and plasma), although over the last two decades they have been allowed fractions of these primary components.

“The fundamental reason why we cannot, yes, will not, accept blood transfusions is because of what God’s Word says. Ours is basically a religious objection.” (Awake 1977 Oct 22 p.26)

They believe that blood is sacred and represents life in God’s eyes and understand scriptures, especially Gen 9:3-6 Lev 17:10–14 and Acts 15:29, to include taking blood into the body via a transfusion. Before we examine these Scriptures, we need to first clarify what blood symbolises in Scripture?

What does blood symbolise?

  • In his monograph “The Meaning of the Word ‘Blood’ in Scripture” A. H. Stibbs writes, “’Blood’ is a vivid word-symbol for referring to someone’s violent death …. In the New Testament the word ‘blood’, while it is sometimes used in its direct literal sense to describe actual blood, is much more often used, as in the Old Testament, in a metaphysical sense as a way of referring to violent death, and of connecting other people with it.” (p.10,16) Of the 362 OT uses of the word ‘blood’, almost all refer to violent death and only in seven cases is the word connected to life. This is similar to how ‘blood’ is also commonly used in the NT also having with the connotation of ‘death’ (cf. Matt 27:24-25; Rom 5:9-10; Rev 6:10). Since blood transfusions do not involve the death of the donor, they do not fall within the definition or teaching of blood in scripture where the blood symbolised life poured out in death.
  • Would letting a person die be placing more importance upon the symbol than the reality which it symbolizes? If a robber threatened you, “Hand over your us your gold wedding ring or I shoot your wife!” Would you say, “Take my wife? My ring is worth more!” Or, would it be morally wrong for a man to sell a treasured family heirloom – a symbol of his family’s history and honour to save his family from financial collapse and starvation? (see Matt 23:17-19) Or, to put it another way, which is greater Jesus’ shed blood, or the red wine which symbolizes his blood? What do you think – which is greater, the blood which can symbolize life, or the life itself?
  • Christ made clear that the law was made for man, not man for the law (Mark 2:27). Thus, if life was at stake, Israelites were not obliged to hold to Sabbatical rules, even though that life was the life of a sheep or bull (Matt 12:11-12). Could the same principles also apply as regards Mosaic laws on blood?

The three scriptures upon which JWs base their teaching.

1. Genesis 9:3-7

It is claimed that, since all humans descend from Noah and his sons, these commands still apply to all persons. The ordinances on blood in the Mosaic law are viewed as elaborations on this basic law.

  • Part 1 (vs 3,4) Albert Barnes comments: ““Flesh with its life, its blood, shall ye not eat.” The animal must be slain before any part of it is used for food. … The design of this restriction is to prevent the horrid cruelty of mutilating or cooking an animal while yet alive and capable of suffering pain”. Likewise, Jamieson-Faussett-Brown, “The sole intention of this prohibition was to prevent these excesses of cannibal ferocity in eating flesh of living animals, to which men in the earlier ages of the world were liable.” (Also, Poole)
  • Further, once slain, to show respect for life taken, the animal’s blood was poured out. The blood represented life taken, not life still active in the creature. Blood transfusions, however, are not the result of the killing of either animals or humans, the blood comes from a living donor who continues to live. Imagine there was a medical procedure of withdrawing blood from a person who died and it was used in a transfusion, then the JW’s ‘no blood’ doctrine would then have some viability.
  • Part 2 (vs 6) Human blood is confined to this verse. There is nothing in this scripture that addresses the misuse of human blood, outside of forbidding murder. Blood is obviously used as a metaphor, a symbol of life taken, otherwise, we could strangle someone which did not involve the literal shedding of blood!
  • Part 3 (vs 7) If the whole instruction applies to everyone today, then should this not be equally true of the accompanying command to “become fruitful and become many“? Yet the WT organisation has at different time encouraged not only singleness but even childlessness. (WT 1988 March 1)
  • Is there anything in Genesis 9 that addresses in any way the modern-day medical practice of transfusing blood? The prohibition pertained to the eating of living animals, and by implication, blood.

2. Leviticus 17:10-12

  • The use of blood is nowhere mentioned in the Ten Commandments. In any case, Christians are not under the Mosaic Law! (Rom 10:4; Col 2:13-16) These rituals do not tell us anything about whether a Christian could accept the use of blood for medical purposes in a life-threatening situation.
  • The Mosaic Law forbids the deliberate “eating” of blood, but says nothing about using blood to “sustain life”- a phrase used often added in by the WT. This is a subtle, yet important difference. In fact, Jesus stated, “It is not what enters into a man’s mouth that defiles him, but it is what comes out of his mouth that defiles him.” (Matt 15:11; Mark 7:15)
  • What if an Israelite bled his bull without killing it, removing a pint or two at a time and brought that to the altar? Such a ‘sacrifice’ would have no value for one simple reason – nothing was killed! The blood only represents the value of life when that life is taken and at no other time. To reiterate, in the case of blood transfusions, the blood that has been donated was not collected at the cost of the donor’s life.
  • Note the very next verse, Lev 17:15, “If anyone, whether a native or a foreigner, eats an animal found dead or one torn by a wild animal, he must then wash his garments and bathe in water and be unclean until the evening; then he will be clean.” (Also, Lev 11:38-39) Gill’s Commentary, “If one came upon an animal that had died naturally (or was something like modern road kill), one could eat it, because good meat shouldn’t go to waste. But the person who ate was regarded as ceremonially unclean, needing washing.” Perhaps a man was lost and stranded and without food and he came across a dead animal which had not been properly bled. Here was a merciful concession of washing instead of the death penalty. This law made provisions for emergency situations to sustain life. Alternatively, the Israelite may have decided to give it to a foreigner because God did not care if non-Jews ate meat with blood in it (Deut 4:21). Blood itself is not holy.
  • Also, both Genesis 9:4 and Leviticus 17:11-14 relate to the blood of animals and birds and bear no reference to human blood, or indeed to that of fish which, interestingly, is not prohibited by Witnesses.
  • Strict Orthodox Jews today say blood transfusions are perfectly acceptable because of the Jewish law called “Pikuach Nefesh”- that the preservation of human life overrides virtually any other religious consideration (Matt 12:11). The Rabbis instruct that one must break a commandment if failing to do so might jeopardize life. Lev 18:5 says “these are my commandments … and you shall live by them”.  Additional Info

3. Acts 15:20,28-29

  • Is there a direct statement pertaining to the medical use of blood?
  • Why were these four instructions of utmost importance to any Jews converting to Christianity at that time? They were sensitive to these directives because they were considered to be based on Noachian laws: Gen 8:20 “And Noah began to build an altar to Jehovah” introduced the concept of abstaining from idolatry; Gen 9:1 “Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth” introduced the idea of marriage and not fornication; Gen 9:4 “Only flesh with its soul – its blood – you must not eat” was abstinence from things strangled; Gen 9:6 “Anyone shedding man’s blood, by man will his own blood be shed” forbidding bloodshed, murder.
  • First listed in Acts 15:29 is “things polluted by idols”. Paul argued in 1 Cor 8:1-13 that for Christians this was a conscience matter, but they should avoid stumbling others, especially newer Christians. Similarly, in the context of Acts 15 it was in order for the Gentile converts not to be offensive to the scruples of Jewish converts. As one commentary states, “Acts 15:21 – ‘For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him … every sabbath day’ – thus keeping alive in every Jew those feelings which such practices would shock, and which, therefore, the Gentile converts must carefully respect if the oneness of both classes in Christ was to be practically preserved.” (JFB) Second listed is fornication, for which many Gentiles simply had not yet developed hatred because prostitution was often part of their temple worship. This also explains why the “necessary things” do not include murder, rape and theft. Jews and non-Jews alike shared a taboo regarding these things.
  • This was Russell’s view which was largely held until 1951 (but which became a disfellowshipping offense in 1961). “He [was] writing to them merely that they abstain from pollutions of idols, i.e., from meats offered to idols (verse 29), and from things strangled and from blood – as by eating such things they might become stumbling blocks to their Jewish brethren (See 1 Cor. 8:4-13) – and from fornication.” (WT 1892 Nov 15 p.350)
  • As the Jewish Christians were gradually weaned from the Law of Moses the decrees of Acts 15 declined and finally disappeared to be replaced by love over law.
  • If avoiding blood was a key requirement of God it would be mentioned alongside sins such as fornication, murder and idolatry that are repeatedly condemned in the New Testament. Abstaining from blood is never mentioned in any other context in the NT (1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Rev 21).
  • The JWs claim that Jesus’ statement about ‘eating his flesh’ cannot be equated with the bread at the Memorial since at the time of John chapter 6 the disciples knew nothing about the Last Supper. If we were to use that same logic, then, the order to “abstain from blood” could not be referring to transfusions since transfusions were unknown at that time!

Four lines of argument used by JWs

1. “Taking Blood is like Intravenous feeding”

It is claimed that transfusing blood can be equated with intravenous feeding. (WT 1951 July 1 p.415)

  • The WT of 1961 (Sept 15 p.558) refers to a doctor, Jean Baptiste Denys, to support this idea that a blood transfusion is eating. The article omits to mention he lived in the 17th century. Medical science long ago abandoned this idea. Later, the Society tried to appeal to Dane Thomas Bartholin, who also lived in the 17th century (Awake 1986 Sept 8 p.27). Not even medical doctors who are JWs will ruin their reputation by supporting this claim.
  • If eating is the same as intravenous injection, would a blood transfusion stop a starving man from dying?
  • The kind of “feeding” through an IV is not actually food at all, but rather substitutes what food would normally provide for you. You could not liquefy chicken, spinach, or carrots and inject them into your veins. That would kill you. Food needs to be digested. That’s what it means to eat. Intravenous “feeding” is not really feeding at all, but a temporary substitute for feeding. How much less, then, can a blood transfusion be considered eating, which does not even so much as a substitute for eating at all!
  • A blood transfusion is not intravenous feeding. For the body cells to utilize such transplanted blood as food would involve the blood first having to pass through the digestive system, be broken up and prepared so that the body cells could absorb it. In other words, it would have to be literally eaten. So, when medical practitioners believe there is need for a blood transfusion it is not for nutrition, but in most cases because of the lack of oxygen or the need for clotting agents (such as platelets), immune globulins containing antibodies, or other elements.
  • Jesus said in Mark 7:19 “what goes into the stomach and is eliminated” (or literally, “passed out into the latrine”). A transfusion is quite different. The blood stays blood. It does not nourish you but is a transporter carrying oxygen and also nutrients from food but the blood does not provide you anything from itself. A food truck delivers food to a grocery store. This does not make the truck itself food but a transporter of food. Similarly, with blood; it is a vehicle for delivering food (carbohydrate, protein and fat), water, oxygen, minerals, vitamins, enzymes, etc.

2. “Abstaining from blood is like abstaining from alcohol”

“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?” (Reasoning from the Scriptures p.73)

  • It is false equivalency. Alcohol is already in a form that can be utilized by the body’s 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.
  • Using the example of rattlesnake venom. Drinking rattlesnake venom and injecting it into the body are vastly different. Rattlesnake venom, if ingested, would simply be digested and the resulting nutrients absorbed and used constructively by the body (it could be dangerous in some cases). However, injecting the venom into the body would be vastly different. So, again, drinking blood and drinking alcohol are two completely different concepts that are not analogous Transfused blood circulates and functions as blood, whereas orally ingested blood does not but is broken down into simple components by digestion; whereas alcohol (ingested and injected) enters into the bloodstream as alcohol and is not broken down during the digestive process in the stomach.
  • 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.
  • Consider the word “abstain”. Let’s say a husband and wife both go to the same doctor. The woman is told “You should abstain from alcohol throughout your pregnancy. The man is told, “You with sensitive skin, should abstain from alcohol.” So, in context, the wife was told not to drink it and the husband was told not to put it on his skin. Could the wife still use cosmetics that contained alcohol on her skin? Of course! Could the husband still drink alcoholic beverages? Of course! The two abstentions are completely unconnected.
  • Eating blood devalues life as common food. But getting a blood transfusion means using and valuing blood as blood – for the very reason it was created. Transfused blood is being used for the same purpose as the body’s own naturally produced blood.  
  • Additional Info

3. “JWs can use blood fractions”

It was in the year 2000 that the Society’s position on blood fractions was clarified (WT 2000 June 15 p.29-31; Oct 15 p.31). It was asserted that blood is comprised of 4 components, which JWs cannot accept. But these four can be then be broken down further into fractions which they can use if their individual conscience allows. “Although [Jehovah’s Witnesses] do not donate or store their own blood for transfusion purposes, some procedures or tests involving an individual’s blood are not so clearly in conflict with Bible principles. Therefore, each individual should make a conscientious decision.” (KM 2006)

Below is an illustration from their 2021 Interactive Bible Course “Enjoy Life Forever!” p.165

  • The classification the Watchtower uses of blood being composed of four primary fractions of plasma, red cells, white cells and platelets is an arbitrary simplification because other sources give from 2 up to 16 components.

https://www.thoughtco.com/volume-chemical-composition-of-blood-601962

  • Even if JWs correctly interpret the commandment in Acts 15:29 “To abstain from blood”, it is reasonable to think the abstention command could only apply to whole blood, with all its components. Why? Because the verse does not discuss components, just blood as a “whole” substance. To illustrate: Who would conclude that someone receiving oxygen as a medical treatment is drinking water (or taking water into their body)? Although it is true that oxygen is one of the primary components of water, the fact is that oxygen, in itself, is not water. The same is true with blood: red cells, white cells, platelets, or plasma are not blood. They are primary components of blood as oxygen is a primary component of water.
  • Try to apply this idea of a minor fraction being acceptable but a major one not to God’s command to not eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Would Jehovah have considered it acceptable if Eve had just nibbled on the peel, selected a segment, drank the juice, made a jam or just extracted the Vitamin C?
  • Do you think that the Holy Spirit intended us to read Acts 15:29 the following way?

“Keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood, [that is; whole blood and its four major components – red cells, white cells, platelets and plasma. However, one may freely partake of fractions of these aforesaid four components, unless your conscience should disallow these] and from things strangled …”

  • These fractions are allowable for use, but only if taken separately. This has been likened to banning the eating of a ham and cheese sandwich but allowing the eating of bread, ham and cheese separately. The truth is that once broken down into fractions a Witness can transfuse 100% of blood.
  • Acceptable blood fractions can only be derived from stored blood provided by donors. For example, intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) is a blood product prepared from the pooled blood supply of between 1000 and 1500 donors per batch for injections which are now permitted for JWs.

https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1990408?q=globulin&p=par

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1809480/

  • Leukocytes, often called “white blood cells,” are prohibited, yet human milk contains leukocytes, more in fact than found in a comparable amount of blood. Blood contains about 4,000 to 11,000 leukocytes per cubic millimetre, while a mother’s milk during the first few months of lactation may contain up to 50,000. That is up to five to twelve times more than the amount in blood!
  • A person with third degree burns over 30 to 50 percent of his body would need about 600 grams of Watch Tower policy would allow this. But it would take from 10 to 15 litres (45 litres?) of stored – not “poured out” – blood to produce that quantity of albumin – not a small amount! JWs refuse to donate blood for the benefit of others but they partake of the medical benefits that arise from the donated blood supply freely for themselves. Albumin makes up 2.2% of blood is now allowable for JWs but platelets making up only 0.17% of blood is banned! EPO which JWs are encouraged to use as a red cell blood stimulant is made with albumin!

4. “Blood transfusions are unsafe”

  • The 1990 JW Blood brochure p.8 states, “Approximately 1 in 100 transfusions are accompanied by fever, chills, or urticaria [hives]. . .. Approximately 1 in 6,000 red cell transfusions results in a homolytic transfusion reaction. This is a severe immunologic reaction that may occur acutely or in a delayed fashion some days after the transfusion; it may result in acute [kidney] failure, shock, intravascular coagulation, and even death.” (NIH conference, 1988) Notice this information is well over 30 years old. Check out for yourself the FDA reports from the US where, in round figures, there are between 15 to 20 million blood components transfused annually and the fatalities reported in 2017 were 44. This shows a potential risk of something like 1:400,000 Link
  • From the figures in a 2012 study of four large hospitals in New Zealand (over a ten-year period 1998-2007) it was extrapolated that on average 1,200 JW die annually worldwide. Three every day! By comparison blood transfusions are deemed safe.
  • Additional Info
  • Additional Info

Conclusion

  • Should an organisation assume the wisdom and authority to impose a complicated set of standards based on their interpretation of a few scriptures rather than leave such health matters in the realm of personal conscience? In the apostle Paul’s day he spoke of those “who want to be under law.” (Gal 4:21) Today men can by a legalistic approach to Christianity convert it into a law code, a burdensome body of rules. How far from grace and freedom in Christ!
  • Fear factor: Macklin [a philosopher] reasoned: “We may believe very strongly this man is making a mistake. But Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that to be transfused . . . [may] result in eternal damnation. We are trained to do risk-benefit analyses in medicine but if you weigh eternal damnation against remaining life on earth, the analysis assumes a different angle.” (How Blood Can Save Your Life p.31)
  • The deaths that have resulted to compliant members are the ultimate sacrifice for an organization of men. In this regard the WT Society is blood guilty. It is ironic that God’s law on blood was to show respect for life, whereas the ever-changing WT standard results in unnecessary deaths. Those who have promoted this false teaching will have to give an account before a holy God of the lives it has needlessly cost if they do not repent and turn to Christ.

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