(WDGR Lesson 12: “Showing Respect for Life and Blood”)
Does God’s law to “abstain from…blood” apply to Blood Transfusions? Is a Blood Transfusion the same as “eating blood”? Does God’s Law condemn the use of stored blood?
KAREN: Cindy, did you see that article in Friday’s paper about the Jehovah’s Witness who died after refusing a blood transfusion? According to the article: “…the unborn son of Anthony and Minnie Peoples had a fatal birth defect. And when she delivered Anthony Jr. at a Rock Hill hospital Tuesday night, he was stillborn. But there were complications, and Minnie…needed a blood transfusion.…‘The doctors really tried to plead with me that without blood, she wasn’t going to make it,’ said her husband, Anthony Peoples.…York County coroner Doug McKnown said.… ‘She made a decision to die, basically.…I don’t fully understand why their God would expect them to die, but I can’t question that.’”1. Cindy, just as McKnown commented, I’m afraid I don’t understand either. I thought God’s laws were to protect life—not destroy it.
CINDY: Karen, this is a tough issue. It’s not always easy to understand Jehovah’s ways, but we must not try to save our lives by breaking God’s laws. Just as we’ll be studying today in the Watchtower brochure What Does God Require of Us?, “Blood is…sacred in God’s eyes. God says that the soul, or life, is in the blood. So…Jehovah requires that we abstain from blood. This means that we must not take into our bodies in any way at all other people’s blood or even our own blood that has been stored.…True Christians.…want to live, but they will not try to save their life by breaking God’s laws.”2. If the situation was really that serious, Karen, could the doctors have guaranteed that the patient would not have died if she had been given the blood transfusion?3.
KAREN: Cindy, are you saying that a medical treatment should be rejected if the doctors cannot guarantee that the treatment would save that patient’s life?
CINDY: Well, no, Karen, but “don’t you agree that, when face to face with death, turning one’s back on God by violating his law would be a poor decision?”4.
KAREN: Yes, Cindy, I agree with that. But “is a transfusion really the same as eating blood”? All of the Bible verses I’ve read on the blood law have to do with physically eating blood—not transfusing it into the veins.5.
CINDY: Karen, at Acts 15:29, Jehovah tells us to “abstain from…blood.”6. “In a hospital, when a person cannot eat through his mouth, he is fed intravenously. Now, would a person who never put blood into his mouth but who accepted blood by transfusion really be obeying the command to ‘keep abstaining from…blood’?…To use a comparison, consider a man who is told by the doctor that he must abstain from alcohol. Would he be obedient if he quit drinking alcohol but had it put directly into his veins?”7.
KAREN: Cindy, when a substance such as alcohol or a nutritional substance is infused into the veins of the body, what happens to the substance? Does the substance retain its original composition or does it get broken down, and in a sense, digested by the body through the process of metabolism?
CINDY: Well, I guess it gets broken down and metabolized by the body.
KAREN: That’s right, Cindy. But what about blood? When blood is transfused into the veins of the body, does the body feed off of the blood by breaking it down for nourishment?
CINDY: Well no Karen. Transfused blood is still blood. It does not get digested in the veins of the body.
KAREN: Then how can a blood transfusion be the same as eating blood? Unlike nutritional substances which are broken down and metabolized by the body, blood, on the other hand, when it enters the body through the veins, retains its original composition as it mixes with the rest of the blood of the body.8. Can you see why there is a big difference between a blood transfusion which merely replenishes the blood supply, and blood which is physically eaten through the mouth and digested by the body? After all, doesn’t the Watchtower Society admit that “blood is an organ of the body”9. and as such a blood transfusion “is essentially an organ transplant”?10.
CINDY: Where does the Society say that?
KAREN: Right here on page 31 of the August 22, 1999 Awake!
CINDY: “Blood is an organ of the body, and blood transfusion is nothing less than an organ transplant.”
KAREN: Cindy, doesn’t the Watchtower Society allow organ transplants? And what about tissue transplants? Don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses take these?
CINDY: Yes, Karen, the 1990 Watchtower brochure How Can Blood Save Your Life? notes that “The Witnesses do not feel that the Bible comments directly on organ transplants; hence, decisions regarding cornea, kidney, or other tissue transplants must be made by the individual Witness.”11.
KAREN: OK, Cindy, now would you look at what they say on page 8 of that same brochure?
CINDY: Alright. “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.”12. Wow! I never noticed that before.
KAREN: Cindy, since the Watchtower Society agrees that blood is a tissue of the body, isn’t it basically admitting that a blood transfusion is more like a transplant situation, than it is eating blood for nourishment?
CINDY: Well, I guess you’re right, Karen, but doesn’t Jehovah God condemn the use of stored blood? At Leviticus 17:13, Jehovah commands “…any man…who in hunting catches a wild beast or a fowl that may be eaten, he must… pour its blood out and cover it with dust.” So you see, Karen, blood transfusions are against God’s law because blood must not be stored, but “poured out” on the ground. This is also the reason why Jehovah’s Witnesses do not donate blood, nor do they store their own blood in anticipation of transfusion during future surgery.13.
KAREN: Cindy, do hemophiliacs who are Jehovah’s Witnesses take hemophiliac preparations of Factor VIII made from blood plasma? And what about other fractions of blood—such as immune globulin, albumin, and fibrinogen? Do Jehovah’s Witnesses take these?
CINDY: Well, yes, Karen. The Watchtower of June 1, 1990 notes that “Some do, believing that the Scriptures do not clearly rule out accepting an injection of a small fraction, or component, taken from blood.”14.
KAREN: But, Cindy, didn’t you just tell me that God’s law is against the use of stored blood? In the June 15, 1985 Watchtower, the Society noted that “…some 70 million units of concentrated Factor VIII are imported from the United States and are used to treat British haemophiliacs. Each batch of Factor VIII is made from plasma that is pooled from as many as 2,500 blood donors.”15. Do you realize, Cindy, this means that blood from 2,500 donors has to be collected, stored, and processed just for a single hemophiliac treatment that a Jehovah’s Witness takes? You just told me that Witnesses don’t donate blood because they believe it to be a violation of God’s law and yet Witnesses freely use small blood fractions taken from thousands of units of stored blood. If the storage of blood is really against God’s law, why doesn’t the Watchtower Society condemn its use for transfusions and injections of blood components?
CINDY: That’s a good point, Karen. I’m not sure why, but one thing you should know is that while some Jehovah’s Witnesses accept transfusions of blood plasma fractions, none of the Jehovah’s Witnesses will accept a transfusion of any of the primary components of blood such as red cells, white cells, platelets, or blood plasma.16. So you can see, Karen, it’s only a small fraction of stored blood that some Jehovah’s Witnesses take.
KAREN: Cindy, are you saying that it’s OK to break God’s law in a little as long as you don’t break it in a lot? You know over half of our blood consists of blood plasma. Do you know what blood plasma is made of?
CINDY: Yes, Karen. The October 22, 1990 Awake! stated that the blood plasma consists of 92% water; “the rest is made up of complex proteins, such as globulins, fibrinogens, and albumin.”17.
KAREN: Cindy, we just read how Jehovah’s Witnesses are allowed to take the complex proteins which make up 8 % of blood plasma, and of course Witnesses take water which makes up the rest of the substance. So why doesn’t the Society allow Witnesses to take blood plasma when it allows them to take all of the components which make up the plasma? Is this the case where mother won’t let you eat the ham sandwich, but if you take it apart and eat the bread, cheese, and meat separately, she’ll let you have it?
CINDY: That’s a good point, Karen. I’ve never thought of it that way before.
KAREN: And what about God’s law to “abstain from…blood”? A fraction of the blood is still a blood substance, isn’t it? What makes a blood fraction transfusion any different from whole blood?
CINDY: I’m not sure, Karen. Let me do some research on this and we can talk about it next week.
KAREN: Sounds good Cindy. I’ll be here.
Friends, just as Cindy discovered, a blood transfusion is not the same as eating and digesting blood. While the Bible is clear about avoiding the digestive use of blood for nourishment, nowhere does the Bible condemn the medical treatment of transfusion in replenishing the blood supply of a living human. A careful examination of the Biblical passages that stipulate that blood must be “poured out” on the ground, will reveal that these passages deal with blood taken from dead animals used in Jewish sacrifices—not living human donors.18. Thus, a blood transfusion made from one human donor to another, does not violate God’s law on blood, for it is not the intention of the human donor to become a dead sacrifice poured out to God. Just as the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus’ blood bought our redemption for eternity, so animal blood sacrifices of the Levitical law are no longer required to earn Jehovah’s approval. Have you been spiritually washed in the precious blood of the Lamb of God?19.
1. The Charlotte Observer, Friday, June 25, 1999
2. What Does God Require of Us?, 1996, p. 25:5-6
3. Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, 1989ed, p. 76
4. Reasoning from the Scriptures, p. 76
5. See Leviticus 17:10-14; Deuteronomy 12:16, 23-25; 15:23; 1 Samuel 14:32-34
6. New World Translation
7. Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, 1989, p. 73
8. See Handbook of Infusion Therapy, (Springhouse, PA: Springhouse Corporation 1999), p. 206
9. Awake!, August 22, 1999, p. 31
10. Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood, 1977, p. 41
11. How Can Blood Save Your Life?, 1990, p. 28
12.Emphasis in the original, How Can Blood Save Your Life, p. 8
13. See The Watchtower, September 15, 1961, p. 561; The Watchtower, March 1, 1989, p. 30
14. The Watchtower, June 1, 1990, pp. 30
15. The Watchtower, June 15, 1985, p. 30
16. How Can Blood Save Your Life?, p. 14
17. Awake! October 22, 1990, p. 4
18. See Leviticus 17:5-6, 13
19. See Hebrews 9:14, 22