( Investigator 10, 1990 January)

In Acts chapter 15 of the Bible the Apostles listed four "necessary things" that Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians had to abstain from:–

Christian commentaries show that abstaining from these "necessary things" was necessary to maintain peace between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. If Gentile Christians were to eat blood with their food it would offend Jewish Christians.

In 1892 the first president of the JWs, C T Russell, agreed with this Christian interpretation. (Zion's Watch Tower 1892, November 15)

In 1909 Russell showed that the four prohibitions were part of the Law of Moses, didn't really apply to Gentiles, but were necessary for peace. He wrote:

"These prohibitions had never come to the Gentiles, because they had never been under the Law Covenant; but so deeply rooted were the Jewish ideas on this subject that it was necessary to the peace of the church that the Gentiles should observe this matter also."
(The Watch Tower 1909 April 15 pp. 116-117)
[A photo-copy of this page was reproduced in Investigator but is here omitted.]

Russell's view of Acts 15 was unaffected by the discovery in 1901 of the ABO blood groups. Nor did Russell's followers object when transfusions saved soldiers' lives in World War I or when in the 1920s U.S. hospitals compiled lists of blood donors.

The first hint against blood came in The Watchtower of 1927, December 15 when a 7-page article about killing and murder included this brief comment:

"God told Noah that every living creature should be meat unto him; but that he must not eat the blood, because the life is in the blood." (p. 371)

In 1939 the 2nd president of the JWs, J F Rutherford, wrote:

"… the life is in the blood and that blood must not be eaten. That would be true of a clean animal or an unclean one just the same.
…and if an animal is killed and the blood is not poured out, but eaten, then the man who does it is guilty of death, for the reason that no man shall drink blood without dying." (The Watchtower 1939 February 15 p. 62)

At this time, around 1940, JWs still accepted blood transfusions. They saw no connection between "eating" and transfusion. The Watchtower statements concerned animal blood anyway and not human blood.

In 1943 December 22, an article in Consolation (forerunner to Awake!) discussed an experiment using horse blood. The article also attacked vaccination. Then page 23 says:

"The divine prohibition as to eating or partaking of blood does not appear to trouble the 'scientists'."

The Watchtower 1944 December 1 stated:

"Not only as a descendant of Noah, but now also as one bound by God's law to Israel which incorporated the everlasting covenant regarding the sanctity of life sustaining blood, the stranger was forbidden to eat or drink blood, whether by transfusion or by mouth." (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:10-14)

In the article "Immovable For The Right Worship" The Watchtower (1945 July) again connected transfusion with eating blood and linked avoidance of both with "right worship".

There was, however, still no outright prohibition on blood transfusions for JWs.

Things became more definite in 1948:

"According to God's law, humans are not to take into their system the blood of others. In addition to the danger of disobeying God's law, blood transfusion involves health hazards." (Awake! 1948 October 22 p.12)

By this time JWs were starting to avoid transfusions. The mention of "health hazards" revealed that the JW leaders were going to use similar arguments to what they had used against vaccinations:

"Thinking people would rather have smallpox than vaccination, because the latter sows the seed of syphilis, cancers, eczema, erysipelas, scrofula, consumption, even leprosy and many other loathsome afflictions. Hence the practice of vaccination is a crime, an outrage and a delusion."  (The Golden Age 1929 May 1 p.502)

In 1951 the JW parents of a 6-year old girl refused a blood transfusion for her. The girl had a rare condition in which her red blood cells were being destroyed. The court in Chicago charged the parents with neglect, took the child from their custody, and ordered a transfusion which saved her life.

The JW leadership reacted:

"Any saving of life accomplished by transfusions is short-lived. And doing it in disobedience of God's commands could cost one eternal life. No temporary good done could justify this permanent great loss…
Those who die faithful to God will be resurrected to live eternally in that new earth arrangement, whereas those who break His laws will perish and never be resurrected." (Awake! 1951 May 22 p. 5)

JWs who broke this "command" were ostracised but not disfellowshipped (excommunicated). A letter from the Watchtower Bible And Tract Society Of New York, dated October 10, 1957, to a Mrs. William Eason of Lexington, Kentucky, said in part:

"This is in answer to your recent letter, asking, about treatment of some brother who has given in and accepted a blood transfusion.

There is no provision in the New World society for disfellowshiping such person and therefore there is no reason for treating such person as a disfellowshiped one.

 Giving in to a blood transfusion while in a weakened state is not to be compared with such sins as thievery, adultery and murder, which would justify disfellowshiping the guilty one and cutting him off from our association.

Disfellowshipping - total shunning and rejection - for taking a transfusion began in 1961.

Transfusions are not always of whole blood but rather of blood components:

blood transfusion, the injection of blood or certain parts of the blood into a vein. Transfusions may be given to increase the liquid volume of blood, as in cases of shock caused by severe loss of blood. They may also be given to supply substances that are lacking in the blood as a result of a disease such as anemia.

Kinds of Transfusions. Whole-blood transfusions are administered primarily to supply red blood cells and to restore the volume of blood. When whole blood is not required, plasma or plasma substitutes, synthetic substances usually composed of proteins or other large organic molecules in a saline solution, are administered. Plasma or plasma substitutes may also be given when whole blood is not immediately available. Many blood transfusions consist of only specific components, or parts, of the blood, such as red blood cells, platelets, or certain portions of the plasma. In this way, each patient receives only the blood components he needs, and the blood obtained from one donor can be used to help several patients.
(Students Encyclopedia 1977 Vol 3 p.234)  

In 1961 The Watchtower revealed:
"Is it wrong to sustain life by infusions of blood or plasma or red cells or the various fractions? Yes. The law that God gave to Noah and which applies to all his descendants makes it wrong for anyone to eat blood, that is, to use the blood of another creature to nourish or sustain one's life." (September 15 p. 558)

God's law against blood "fractions" was amended in 1978:

"What, however, about accepting serum injections to fight against disease, such as are employed for dipththeria, tetanus, viral hepatitis, rabies, hemophilia and Rh incomtibility? This seems to fall into a 'gray area.'"  (The Watchtower 1978 June 15 pp.30-31)

This change was a blessing to JW hemophiliacs who may require up to 40 infusions of Factor VIII per year. A single infusion of Factor VIII may contain proteins from several thousand donors – a case of JWs accepting a gift that they say it's wrong to give!

Awake! 1987 (June 22) had an article by a JW hemophiliac who survived since 1970 without transfusion. Since all articles must be approved by the JW leaders in Brooklyn before publication this article by the hemophiliac was doubtless a strong hint that blood fractions might be against God's law again.

Autologous transfusions - removing some of the patient's own blood, storing it, and transfusing it back into him when needed - is supposedly against the Bible also. (The Watchtower 1978 June 15 pp.29-30)

Blood transfusions to pets is also "a violation of the Scriptures". (The Watchtower 1964 February 15 p.127) So is giving of pet food to pets when the pet food includes blood products. (Ibid)

The following letter was published in QUESTIONS FOR JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES (1983 B & J Cetnar);

April 6, 1963

Mrs. Anthony Huczko
Santa Ana, California

Dear Sister Huczko:
You would like to know if it would be a violation of God's law to give a blood transfusion to a pet you have. In considering the Scriptures, it is noted that, unless blood was under certain circumstances used on the altar, it was to be poured out on the ground and covered over with dust. (Lev. 17:13, 14) To use blood for transfusion purposes, even in the case of an animal, would not be proper. The Scriptures are clear in showing that blood should not be eaten. (Gen. 9:3, 4; Acts 15:28, 29) That would apply in the case of a human, naturally, but it would also apply to this question of giving a blood transfusion to a pet that is under the jurisdiction of a Christian. It would not be Scripturally proper to do so.

B & J Cetnar claim that a further query to JW headquarters about pet cats eating mice without draining the blood first got the reply: "You must keep your animals under control." The Bible however shows that certain animals by nature eat blood. (Numbers 23:24) Nor does the Bible command such animals to stop.

What about using animal blood as fertilizer on soil?

"Such commercialization of blood would not be in accord with deep respect for the life representing value of blood."
(The Watchtower 1981 Oct. 15 p.31)

Haemorrhoids respond to treatment with leeches. The leech used is called Hirudo medicinalis. It has three small jaws that cut into the skin. This leech has been used in tens of thousands of cases to treat swelling after plastic surgery and graft operations. Until 1985 microsurgeons often failed when sewing severed ears, fingers and other body parts back on. Leeches are now regularly used in such cases to keep the blood oozing into the sewn-on tissue until the blood vessels can heal.

Jehovah's Witness leaders require that their followers avoid treatment with leeches because it would: "conflict with what the Bible says." Also:

"…it would not be proper for a Christian to permit leeches to draw his blood. Proverbs 30:15" (The Watchtower 1982 June 15 p.31)

For the present a Jehovah's Witness who requires treatment with leeches would just have to lose his finger, or foot, or ear, or whatever.

(1989 September) had an article that suggested that the JW anti-blood doctrine is a spin-off from their anti-vaccination doctrine:

"As vaccination is a direct injection of animal matter in the blood stream vaccination is a direct violation of the law of Jehovah God."
(The Golden Age 1935 April 24 p.471)

Vaccines are often prepared from blood serum and in that way they are "animal matter". Obviously if a vaccination, prepared from blood, is an "injection of animal matter" then a blood transfusion can also be viewed as an "injection of animal matter".

This may have been the original link in the minds of the JW leaders leading to their prejudice against blood. The link was then ignored and Bible passages against eating blood employed instead. When "the law of Jehovah God" against vaccination was cancelled in 1952 the "law" against blood transfusion remained.

The objection to "animal matter" may also be the origin of the JW leaders' ban on tissue transplants. They compared transplants to cannibalism and called it the "Scriptural Aspect". (Awake! 1968 June 8 p.21; The Watchtower 1967 Nov. 15 p.702)

This applied to cornea transplants too. David Reed claims:

"A former elder in England once wrote telling me that he resigned after seeing a woman in, his congregation, go blind in obedience to this command."
(How to Rescue Your Loved One From the Watch Tower 1989 p.105)

In 1980 the "scriptural aspect" was changed and transplants became a matter for individual conscience. (The Watchtower 1980 March 15)


Insight on Jehovah's Witnesses on this website: