Weighing the Objections to Transfusion

In an earlier post, I showed how the Jehovah’s Witness religion is no different from curious cults that program members to lay down their lives for their fanatical beliefs – a cruel feat often perpetuated in the name of God.

The Watchtower Society’s policy on blood transfusion is plagued with incoherence, fallacies, falsehoods and inconsistencies which need to be pointed out. Their precedent for prohibition of blood transfusion is based on earlier rulings on vaccinations and organ transplants, which were not without some contradictions:

Vaccination

1921 – “Vaccination never prevented anything and never will, and is the most barbarous practice. We are in the last days; and the devil is slowly losing his hold, making a strenuous effort meanwhile to do all the damage he can … Use your rights as American citizens to forever abolish the devilish practice of vaccinations” (The Golden Age, Oct. 12, 1921, 17).

1952 – “Is vaccination a violation of God’s law forbidding the taking of blood into the system? … After consideration of the matter, it does not appear to us to be in violation of the everlasting covenant made with Noah, as set down in Genesis 9:4 nor contrary to God’s related commandment Leviticus 17:10-14″ (The Watchtower, Dec. 15, 1952, 764).

Organ Transplant

1967 – “Is there any Scriptural objection to donating one’s body for use in medical research to accepting organs for transplant from such a source? … Those who submit to such operations are thus living off the flesh of another human. That is cannibalistic. However, in allowing man to eat animal flesh Jehovah God did not grant permission for humans to try and perpetuate their lives by cannibalistically taking into their bodies human flesh whether chewed or in the form of whole organs or body parts taken from others” (The Watchtower, Nov. 15, 1967, 702).

1980 – “Some Christians might feel that taking into their bodies any issue or body part from another human is cannibalistic … Other sincere Christians today may feel that the Bible does not definitely rule out medical transplant of human organs … It may be argued, though, that organ transplants are different from cannibalism since the ‘donor’ is not killed to supply food. There is no Biblical command pointedly forbidding the taking in of other human tissue” (The Watchtower, Mar. 15, 1980, 31).

These are commands from the Governing Body, said to be “Jehovah’s mouthpiece.” They dogmatically make up critical doctrines and then turn around to refute them years later. With this policy reversals and backtracking, how can we be so sure they won’t rescind their stance once again in the future?

When one considers how many Jehovah’s Witnesses became physically blind because Watchtower leaders forbade cornea transplant; those who died because kidney, liver and bone marrow transplant were ruled as “cannibalism” or those debilitated by preventable child diseases because vaccinations were forbidden, one needs to ask: When will Watchtower leaders accept responsibility for the lives they have sacrificed on the altars of falsehood?

Have they apologised for the many lives they led astray and damaged by their erroneous teachings? How can they even apologise to those they have goaded on to a Christless eternity with a bogus promise of living in an earthly paradise as reward for blind loyalty?

This is why we must never allow sentiments, blind devotion and fear deter us from questioning and critically examining the beliefs of any religious organization, no matter what grandiose claim it may make.

In Awake! No. 1, 2016 they state:

We do accept medical treatment … However we reject any treatment that conflicts with Bible principles. For example, we do not accept blood transfusions, because the Bible forbids taking in blood. – Acts 15:20, 28, 29.

Even then, we seek the best medical care for ourselves and our families. In fact, blood conservation treatments that were developed to help Witness patients are now being used to benefit all in the community. In many countries, any patient can now choose to avoid blood transfusion risks, such as blood-borne disease, immune-system reactions, and human errors” (page 8).

These are typical objections a JW is likely to prattle at your doorstep within 60 seconds, but when carefully analysed, they are found to be wanting:

1. The statement “We do accept medical treatment” is newspeak. A more accurate statement is that Jehovah’s Witnesses accept only medical treatments approved by the Watchtower Society.

JWs agree that blood is a tissue and transfusion is basically a tissue transplant, then, it’s highly irrational and inconsistent for the Governing Body to allow all other tissue or organ transplants except blood.

II. Note that the term “treatment that conflicts with Bible principles” also once applied to vaccination and organ transplants and the very misinterpreted Bible passages appealed to as “proof” are still the ones used to denounce blood transfusion today.

Blood has four primary components: red cells (RBC), white cells (WBC), platelets and plasma. Jehovah’s Witness are taught that “accepting whole blood or any of those four primary components violates God’s law” but regarding fractions from any of these four blood components:

“We cannot say. The Bible does not give details, so a Christian must make his own conscientious decision before God” (The Watchtower, June 2000, 29).

This is as dicey as it gets. The Bible also gives no details about “whole” blood or blood components. Blood components and fractions are technically the same. They are not blood but necessary for blood formation, so there’s no reasonable justification for rejecting transfusion of blood components while allowing transfusion of blood fractions.

III. Not one text in any of the biblical books JWs cite refers to using blood for medical transfusion in which case, blood continues to serve as blood and not as food or nourishment in the human body. But to assert that God’s law forbids blood transfusion, 3 problems quickly arise for the JW:

  • They are told that transfusion of fractions from blood cells or plasma are permitted because “blood fractions can pass to another person in this natural setting” (WT, Jun. 15, 2000, 31). So why are blood cells transfusion banned?

Yes, White cells are naturally present in breast milk which a mother feeds her baby with. Fetal blood cells have also been detected in women several years after giving birth. “Leukocytes [white blood cells] bearing a Y chromosome have been identified in women for up to five years after giving birth to a son” (Williams Obstetrics, 19th ed., 1993, 127).

Another source says: “In the last weeks of pregnancy, small numbers of the baby’s red cells escape through the placenta into the mother’s circulation” (James Brevan, A Practical Handbook of Anatomy and Physiology, 1978, 26).

It has been demonstrated that platelets, erythrocytes and leukocytes pass through the placental barrier. Fetal red blood cells are present in the maternal circulation in approximately 80% of all pregnancy (Hematological Problems in the Newborn, 3rd edition, 1982, 41).

Now, since primary blood components naturally pass from mother to child, on what basis then does the Watchtower Society forbids their transfusion? If God allows transference of blood cells to occur in 80% of pregnancy and even during labour, how then can blood transfusion be a violation of God’s law? Certainly, God’s law doesn’t condemn blood transfusion!

  • JWs are ordered to reject blood transfusion because the blood are collected and stored whereas the Bible says blood should be “poured out.” But they are allowed to receive blood fractions such as immuno globulin, fibrinogen, factor VIII etc. Yet The Watchtower itself says: “Each batch of Factor VIII is made from plasma that is pooled from as many as 2,000 blood donors” (June 15, 1985, 30).

This  means that JWs still accept stored, processed, collected and donated blood when they receive blood fractions. If blood storage is contrary to God’s law, then why does “the Society” endorse its usage in blood fraction transfusions but condemn it in cases of whole blood transfusions? This is inconsistency.

  • The Watchtower says taking in blood is forbidden but fragments of blood can be taken in. Blood plasma for instance, consists of water (90%), hormones, inorganic salts, enzymes, nutrients (sugar and minerals), proteins, albumin and clotting factors (e.g factor VIII).

JWs are allowed to take in each of these substances, yet they are forbidden from taking blood. This doesn’t make any sense. Why not just cut the drama and accept blood plasma? This is like a parent forbidding a child from eating sandwich but allowing him to bread, egg or fish separately. Isn’t that hilarious and Pharisaical?

So is it OK to break God’s law a little as long as you don’t break it a lot? If God’s law forbids taking blood why is taking a blood fraction acceptable? This inconsistency is hard to reconcile.

IV. In Watchtower publications, they tout “blood conservation treatments” as alternatives to blood transfusion: “Most who refuse blood, for religious and/or medical reasons, yet accept alternative therapy do very well medically. They may thus extend their life for many years…” (The Watchtower June 15, 1991, 12).

This would be amusing if it wasn’t so tragic. There are 3 main alternative therapies to blood transfusion. One, the use of blood volume expanders. These are solutions intravenously given to the recipient to boost plasma (fluid) volume and keep blood circulation going.

But blood volume expanders neither carry oxygen nor raise the number of blood cells; they only increase blood volume and thus cannot help someone with serious blood loss. So far, there is no real substitute for human blood.

Two, there are growth factors given to people with low blood cell counts to boost their Red Blood Cells, White Blood Cells and platelet counts. But unlike blood transfusion, growth factors often take many days or weeks to raise blood counts and may not help people who need their blood cells urgently restored.

People with bone marrow diseases may also not respond to growth factors due to insufficient blood-producing cells in the bone marrow. The American Cancer Society 2016 findings note that some growth factors cause certain type of cancers (breast, cervical, head etc.) and notably, these factors are more expensive than blood transfusion.

The autologous transfusion, another alternative therapy, involves blood being removed from the person, filtered and introduced back after surgery. Since this involves storage of blood, JWs are banned from utilizing it.

Now, where is that “extending of life for many years” Watchtower writers talk about? The so-called blood conservation treatments are limited in their effects, yet Watchtower leaders continue to recommend them for their followers.

V. Scare mongering is another tool. JWs are constantly warned of serious risks of blood transfusion based on dated (and often misquoted) scientific sources. In 2008, the London Health Science Centre noted that Canada’s blood supply is one of the safest in the world and the risk of transfusion-transmitted disease for each unit of blood is:

HIV (AIDS) about 1 in 4 million

Hepatitis C about 1 in 3 million

Hepatitis B about 1 in 1.2 million

West Nile Virus about 1 in 1 million

Thus, blood transfusion is still far more safer than the much vaunted alternative therapies. Immune system reactions and human errors occur in all organ transplants, yet these do not warrant them being banned by “the Society.”

No medical procedure is free from risks or errors. To claim that blood transfusion should be rejected on that basis is like saying food shouldn’t be eaten because there have been cases of food poisoning.

Jesus denounced the false religious leaders of His day who stridently adhered to the details of the Mosaic law while neglecting “the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Mt. 23:23).

Similarly, Watchtower leaders exalt their own laws above justice, mercy and faithfulness. By banning blood transfusion, a life-saving medical procedure, they have replaced mercy with sacrifice whereas God says “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Mt. 9:13).

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