Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusions because they believe the Bible prohibits consuming blood. This belief is based on several scriptures in the Bible that command people to abstain from blood.
In the Old Testament, God prohibited the consumption of blood. After the flood, God told Noah: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” (Genesis 9:3-4 ESV) Here God made a clear distinction between the flesh of an animal as food and the blood of the animal representing its life.
This command was repeated in the Mosaic Law. “For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.” (Leviticus 17:14 ESV) Consuming an animal’s blood was equated to taking its life.
The prohibition on blood was not limited to just eating it. The people were not to use blood in any way. “You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes. You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:26-28 ESV) Cutting oneself and mixing the blood with pagan mourning rituals was also forbidden.
In the New Testament, the apostles affirmed this command by instructing Gentile Christians to “abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled.” (Acts 15:29 ESV) This showed that the prohibition on blood was not limited just to the Mosaic Law but was a timeless moral principle.
Jehovah’s Witnesses view the command to abstain from blood as a non-negotiable Bible decree that still applies today. They believe blood represents life and belongs only to God. When a person consumes blood or receives a blood transfusion, they are misusing life by taking blood into their body in a way that God has prohibited.
Bible principles on the sanctity of blood
The Bible articulates several key principles that explain why blood is sacred and prohibits its consumption:
- Blood represents life. “The life of every creature is its blood.” (Leviticus 17:14 ESV) As the source of life, blood is holy.
- Blood belongs to God. When Cain killed Abel, God said, “Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10 ESV) Shed blood calls out to the Life-Giver, Jehovah God, to whom it belongs.
- Blood atones for sin. Animal sacrifices in the Old Testament pictured the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV) Blood has God-given purpose.
- Blood seals covenants. When the Law covenant was inaugurated, Moses sprinkled the altar with blood. (Exodus 24:8; Hebrews 9:18-22 ESV) Blood is holy and signifies sacred pacts.
Respecting the sanctity of blood means no longer viewing it as a medical product. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe blood transfusions violate these principles by treating blood as a commodity rather than a sacred symbol of life belonging to God.
How Witnesses view blood transfusions
Jehovah’s Witnesses view transfusions of whole blood or its primary components (red cells, white cells, platelets, and plasma) as prohibited in God’s law. They object to blood transfusions for the following reasons:
- Blood transfusion is equivalent to eating blood. Just as God prohibits ingesting blood as food, Witnesses believe receiving blood intravenously is also prohibited since it amounts to sustaining one’s life with someone else’s blood.
- Transfusions violate God’s law on blood. Bible commands to abstain from blood still apply today. Willingly accepting a blood transfusion shows disregard for the sanctity of blood.
- Transfusions disrespect life. Blood represents life belonging to God. When a person stores and transfuses blood, they are handling life in a way that fails to show respect for Jehovah as the Life-Giver.
- Patients don’t require transfusions. Witnesses believe transfusions are generally unnecessary as there are effective alternatives that do not violate Bible principles. They seek the best medical care that preserves life without blood.
In summary, Jehovah’s Witnesses hold that blood transfusions are unethical, incompatible with Bible teachings, and unnecessary for quality medical care. They avoid transfusions to show respect for life, uphold God’s law, and maintain Bible principles on the sanctity of blood.
Bible examples of respecting blood
The Bible contains examples of God’s servants who showed respect for blood even in life-or-death situations:
- Levi, Simeon, and Dinah (Genesis 34:25; 49:5-7 ESV) – They sought revenge against Shechem who had raped their sister Dinah but did not take the people’s possessions, animals, or blood.
- Saul’s army (1 Samuel 14:31-35 ESV) – They did not eat the meat with blood still in it but drained the blood onto the ground as per God’s law.
- David (2 Samuel 23:13-17 ESV) – He poured out the water brought to him by three mighty men at the risk of their lives because it symbolized the men’s blood.
- Maccabean martyrs (2 Maccabees 7:1-42) – A mother and her seven sons chose to die rather than violate God’s law by eating pork meat with blood in it.
These accounts encourage Jehovah’s Witnesses today to uphold the Bible’s principles on blood even when facing life-threatening situations that may require blood transfusions.
Alternative treatments to transfusions
Jehovah’s Witnesses seek the best medical care for themselves and their families. However, they do not accept treatments that violate Bible principles. They focus on blood conservation and management techniques that preserve and maximize blood circulation. Alternatives Witnesses request include:
- Volume expanders – Intravenous fluids like saline solution and plasma expanders increase blood volume.
- Blood fragments – Parts of blood like proteins, clotting factors, and hemoglobin are permissible.
- Blood salvage – Blood lost during surgery is collected and returned to the patient.
- Erythropoietin therapy – Medication stimulates increased RBC production.
- Minimally invasive procedures – Laparoscopic surgery results in less blood loss.
- Precise surgical techniques – Meticulous surgery controls bleeding.
Doctors have successfully treated Witnesses through major surgeries like organ transplants without the use of blood transfusions. With comprehensive blood management programs, transfusions are often unnecessary for quality care.
Why blood transfusions may not be best treatment
Apart from religious objections, there are medical reasons why blood transfusions may not offer the best treatment:
- Overtransfusion can cause pulmonary edema, heart failure, and death.
- Human error can lead to mismatched blood types causing hemolytic reactions.
- Transfusions may transmit viruses like HIV, hepatitis B and C, West Nile virus, and vCJD.
- Immunosuppression after transfusions may increase cancer recurrence and infection.
- Repeated transfusions can lead to iron overload causing organ damage.
- Blood storage depletes nitric oxide, impairing blood vessel dilation.
- Stored blood has reduced oxygen delivery capacity compared to fresh blood.
These risks have motivated physicians to minimize transfusions. Studies show transfusions have been overused without clinical justification in the past. Careful use of alternative treatments can often avoid transfusions while providing quality care.
How Witnesses make transfusion decisions
Jehovah’s Witnesses are personally responsible for making conscientious decisions about their medical care:
- They research medical procedures to understand risks, benefits, and alternatives to transfusions.
- They weigh choices in view of Bible principles and ensure their decisions align with Christian conscience.
- They discuss options with their physicians to arrange care that avoids transfusions.
- They plan ahead by researching hospitals and doctors open to alternative treatments.
- They carry signed documents expressing their choice to avoid transfusions.
- They authorize someone to speak for them if they cannot make decisions personally.
This advance care planning enables Witnesses to receive quality medical treatment while upholding their Bible-based convictions.
How Witnesses view blood fractions and medical procedures
Jehovah’s Witnesses view medical use of blood as follows:
- Acceptable: fractions from blood plasma (albumin, clotting factors, immunoglobulins), cell fragments, hemoglobin.
- Unacceptable: whole blood, red cells, white cells, platelets, and plasma.
- Personal choice: procedures like dialysis, heart-lung machine, organ transplantation, stem cell therapy.
While Jehovah’s Witnesses avoid transfusions of whole blood, they recognize nothing in the Bible prevents use of blood fractions to treat medical conditions. They believe each Witness must make personal choices about more complex procedures involving blood after carefully researching bible principles.
Why Jehovah’s Witnesses’ position has changed over time
The Witnesses’ doctrine on blood has adapted as medicine advanced to fractionate blood components:
- 1945: Transfusions of whole blood banned officially as violating God’s law.
- 1952: Use of blood fractions left to personal conscience.
- 1958: All blood products including fractions ruled unacceptable.
- 1961: Ban lifted on blood fractions like albumin, globulin, hemoglobin.
- 2000: Most blood fractions allowed based on conscience. Only whole blood, red cells, white cells, platelets and plasma remained prohibited.
As medical technology enabled blood components to be used in isolation, Witnesses refined their stand to focus on transfusions of primary blood components that clearly violate bible principles. Their current position strikes a balance between upholding God’s law on blood and taking advantage of life-saving medical advances.
Why Witnesses refuse donations but accept fractions
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not donate blood, but most accept the medical use of blood fractions. This is not contradictory or hypocritical because donating and accepting fractions have different moral implications:
- Donating blood directly against God’s law to abstain from blood.
- However, the Bible does not prevent benefiting from fractions derived from someone else’s donated blood.
- Fractions are many steps removed from whole blood when manufactured.
- Witnesses focus on making personal choices to uphold Bible principles.
- They have no control over others’ decisions to donate blood.
Witnesses believe they have a Christian obligation to abstain from blood. But they are not responsible for whether others choose to donate against God’s law. They simply make personal choices to avoid direct blood donations or transfusions that violate biblical commands.
Why Witnesses allow some procedures but not transfusions
Jehovah’s Witnesses allow certain medical procedures involving blood but do not permit transfusions. This distinction is based on the degree to which each procedure directly violates God’s laws on blood:
- Transfusions are a direct violation by ingesting blood.
- Other procedures may involve a lesser degree of blood. It’s individual conscience whether these are acceptable.
- For example, hemodialysis filters but does not transfuse blood. Organ transplant involves circulating blood of the recipient, not donor.
- Witnesses do not transfuse their own blood stored via autologous predonation.
- But some may accept nonblood volume expanders stored in advance before procedures where blood loss occurs.
By examining each medical procedure in the light of Bible principles, Witnesses allow techniques that do not directly violate God’s commands, while prohibiting transfusions that flagrantly disregard the sanctity of blood.
Why Witnesses obey God rather than men
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe they must obey God’s law rather than men where there is any conflict (Acts 5:29). This guides their choice when doctors recommend transfusions that violate Bible principles:
- Witnesses have deep respect for life and medical science.
- They seek the best care to preserve life – but not at any cost.
- The Bible prohibits ingesting blood, so they cannot accept transfusions however medically indicated.
- They do not refuse all treatment, only transfusions.
- They respect doctors’ efforts to heal, but ultimately God’s law takes precedence.
Jehovah’s Witnesses obey God foremost out of love and devotion to their Creator. They allow doctors to administer alternative treatments that do not conflict with God’s word.
How Witnesses benefit the medical community
By requesting alternatives to transfusions, Jehovah’s Witnesses have motivated the medical community to develop more patient-centered care:
- Their advocacy has spurred advancement in bloodless medicine and surgery techniques.
- Managing their care without transfusions has helped minimize needless blood use.
- Hospitals now implement blood management programs for all patients, not just Witnesses.
- Doctors have recognized transfusions are less vital for quality care than previously thought.
- Medicine now focuses on minimizing blood loss rather than just replacing blood.
Rather than just passively submitting to doctor’s orders, Witnesses make informed requests for treatment consistent with their beliefs. This active partnership with medicine has improved patient care for all.
In summary, Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusions because they believe God’s law prohibits ingesting blood. The Bible clearly commands people to abstain from blood out of respect for the life it represents. Witnesses seek the best alternative treatments that do not violate these biblical principles. Their stand upholding scriptural commands on blood often motivates medicine to provide more patient-centered care that minimizes transfusions for all persons.