(Investigator 75,  2000 November)



Around 1945 the Leaders of Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs) imposed the doctrine that blood transfusions are dangerous and against God's law.

Much debate ensued in journals of philosophy, medicine and law on whether people who say "No" to medical treatment should be compelled to accept when life is at stake.

Points and principles relevant to the issue included:

(Byrn, R M Compulsory Lifesaving Treatment for the Competent Adult. In: Contemporary Issues in Bioethics, 1978, Beauchamp, T L & Walters, L Dickenson, USA, pp. 150-161)

Philosophers debated legal paternalism, medical paternalism, freedom vs. coercion, informed parental consent, good Samaritanism, freedom and rationality, limits of religious freedom, etc.

The debates, however, hardly touched on:

  1. Membership loss rate among JWs. Since ex JWs usually condemn the anti-blood doctrine, a JW whose life is saved by compulsion may later be glad when he leaves the sect.
  2. JWs have a high rate of doctrinal change. Might their opposition to blood transfusion eventually be abandoned?
  3. Is "indoctrination" of propaganda morally wrong? Should life-threatening choices that flow from indoctrination be permitted? Are JW doctrines taught or indoctrinated?
  4. Do JWs reject transfusions due to social threats and pressures?

On point "1" consider an example on the Internet by Paul Blizzard:

Toung [is] a refugee from Vietnam. He and his wife escaped from Vietnam after its fall and immigrated to the U.S. His wife earned a bachelor's degree in computer science and Toung is a technician of some sort.
They were converted to the JWs from Buddhism, believing it was Christianity. They have been JWs for about 4 years. Last Fall, Toung's wife was delivering her second child when she began to hemorrhage. The elders called and the "hospital committee" came and surrounded the bed. Heaping guilt on this couple, they convinced them of "god's law on blood transfusion." The doctors pleaded with Toung and his wife to take the simple procedure which would save her life… Toung watched his young, beautiful wife slip into a coma and die as a result of severe blood loss.
The newspapers picked up the story and rushed to Toung for an interview. Toung, still in shock and grief over the loss of his wife, blurted out the statement: "I don't know whether this religion is the truth or not. Maybe this idea of a New System is just a fantasy." Adding insult to injury, after seeing the interview in the newspaper, the local elders disfellowshipped Toung without question. They called him on the phone and accused him of being an apostate.
The defection rate among JWs was estimated in Investigator No. 71 at near 2% per annum. This led to a calculation that half of all baptized JWs are only temporary members.

Regarding point "2". JWs opposed vaccinations until 1952 and tissue transplants until 1980. [For details see Investigator 12 & 31]

After JW Leaders abandoned opposition to tissue transplants and made them a matter of individual conscience the rank and file accepted them. The journal Transplantation, for example, reported on Renal Transplantation in Thirteen Jehovah's Witnesses. (1988 June Volume 45 pp. 1045-1049)

A related problem is that the Leaders keep refining and even changing the rules regarding what blood-related treatment is O.K. Strict opposition to all blood components ceased about 1975. There followed increasingly complex guidelines as to what blood-products could be accepted. Such changes can cost lives when rank-and-file JWs are not up-to-date with the latest "truth".

For example, the "retirement age couple" in Table I [see below] were the subject of a letter to a newspaper:

Recently a tragic event in the University Hospital of San Antonio was videotaped and aired on the television documentary "Trauma: Life in the ER"…
The doctor asked the woman if they could clean her own blood that she was still losing and put it back into circulation. The woman refused this as well, and with a low blood count a few days after surgery, she died of resulting complications…

It just happens that the Jan. 8, 2000 issue of the "Awake!" magazine, published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, lists some alternatives to blood transfusions acceptable for Jehovah's Witnesses which includes the use of a machine that cleans the lost blood of a patient and puts it back into circulation…
(Mount Forest Confederate 2000 March 8)
Issues "3" and "4" I'll omit but recommend the book Indoctrination and Education (1972) I A Snook.



A blank in the "Reference" column of Table I represents news items sighted but which lacked the name of the item or date.

The list is partial. There are thousands of newspapers and magazines and most lack indexes. Even if all news reports about JW deaths could be found this would still omit all who did not come to the notice of reporters.

In Investigator No. 12 it's argued that four JWs have died needlessly in South Australia. Since SA has about 1/700th of all JWs worldwide a rough estimate is that worldwide since the 1940s about 700 x 4 =2800 JWs have died needlessly.

Since Investigator No. 12,  possible 5th and 6th SA victims have come to notice – increasing the world estimate to 700 x 6 = 4200.

New Zealand has about 1/400th of all JWs worldwide. The table includes 2 deaths in New Zealand which, if there were no others, would give a world estimate of only 400 x 2 = 800.

Some anti-JW magazines estimate 6,000 needless JW deaths per year but give no calculation. We need more calculations of the above sort and based on cities, states and countries for which all JW deaths from blood loss are known.

Another technique would be to ask ex-JWs about blood-loss deaths in congregations they used to attend. If we sample 1000 ex-JWs we could work out the average deaths from blood loss per congregation and multiply this by the number of congregations worldwide.

Another point is that the rejection of a transfusion is often only a contributing cause of death. The JW is sick or injured in the first place and often survival is only a probability even with a transfusion. For example, one entry in Table I says "3 to 15 dead". This refers to cardiovascular surgery on 542 JWs during a 20-year period:

Three of the 51 deaths in this series related directly to blood loss, and postoperative anemia contributed to 12 others. (1979 Yearbook of Anesthesia p. 190)
Tables I & II incorporate information from the Internet site WATCHTOWER VICTIMS MEMORIAL

Table 1 lists referenced deaths – reported in newspapers and magazines – and includes many not listed on the web site.

Table II lists unreferenced deaths – obtained by the web site creator via e-mail and correspondence. I've deleted deaths by suicide as these are a separate topic.

Table II could be extended by searching in anti-JW magazines. TIDBITS (2000 Oct/Nov), for example, says:

No blood transfusion rule continues to take lives. Domenica Asciutto died delivering her first child after refusing a potentially life saving transfusion. (p. 10)

1 year ago, JW Thomas Branco while moving his disabled car was hit by a DUI driver. He said "I am a JW, I don't want blood under any circumstances" doctors were unable to save him. (p. 8)

TABLE 1 Referenced Deaths

ADA, A Emily 61 Australia, SA The Advertiser (South Aust.) 1978 June 13
ALSON, John 47 USA, California The Modesto Bee 1992 August 16
ANDERSEN, Dan 15 Denmark Ekstra Bladet 1996 January 25; w1996 2/1 15
Baby boy England, Sheffield Sun-Herald 1960 March 20
BIFFLE, Lysa USA, New York The New York Post 1989, December 27
BLANCHET, Frank 49 USA, California News Press (Santa Barbara) 1998 May 21
Boy 15 Canada, Manitoba The Times 1958 December 15
BROWN, Anita 25 USA, Nevada Contra Costa Times 1980 June 25
BUDD, Leonard 21 Canada, Saskat. Died 1979? Press report in Questions for Jehovah's Witnesses (p. 30) W & J Cetnar
BURKE, Christopher 47 England The Sun 1989 January 19
CANLE, Elihu 2 Spain Alternativa 2.000 March-April 1990;
Cambio 16, 1994 October 3
Child USA Houston Chronicle 1995 November 18 p. 42A
CHRISTIAN, J F Mrs 28 USA, Arizona Arizona Republic 1968 March 9
COOK, Laurie 33 USA Dayton Daily News 1994 May 17
COOK, Wyndham 15 South Africa Awake! 1991 August 22 p.15
CROCKFORD, Kelsey 2 USA, Texas The Houston Chronicle 1995 November 18
CRYNES, Mavis 70 Australia, QLD Gold Coast Bulletin 1989 April 26
CULL, Ronald G Australia, QLD Sydney Truth 1957 September 15
CYRENNES, Sarah 12 Canada, Ontario Globe and Mail (Toronto) nd. Died 1980 June 17
GALIAN, Catalina 27 Spain, Cartagena Cambio 16 1994 October 3
GANGI, Lucia 12 Australia, VIC Died 2/89. Sydney Morning Herald 1992 March 25; Telegraph Mirror 1992 March 25
GELEFF, Nicola 35 England, London The Advertiser (South Australia) 1991 March 23
GODLEVSKAYA, Elena 17 Russia Kievskie vedomosty 1998 September 25
Girl 13 Germany, Berlin The Watchtower 1971 September1 p.531
GRENCI, Cathy 34 Canada, Ontario The Toronto Star 1996 May 26
GROOTJES, Emily 19 England Daily Mirror 1996 September 24
HOOD, Brendon 4 USA, California Press report reproduced in Danger At Your Door (1987) D Magnani p. 70
HUMPHRIES, Eliza 37 England, London  
HUNT, Brian 49 England, London Daily Telegraph 1992 August 28
IOANNIDES, Tully 18 Australia, Brisbane Herald Sun 1998 December 23; The Australian 1998 December 22
JACKSON, Betty 24 USA, New York Press report reproduced in Danger At Your Door (1987) D Magnani p. 70
JAUDON, Lora 29 USA, New Jersey The Record pp. A1 & A12 nd. Died 1989 April
JEHU, Stephen 2 days Australia, SA Melbourne Truth 1959 May 23
JOLLEY, Ada, J E 61 Australia, SA The Advertiser (South Aust.) 1978 June 13
KENNETT, Daniel 15 Canada, Ontario The Globe and Mail 1986 June 14
KOEHLER, Minel 19 USA, Minnesota Pioneer Press 1992 April 29
KORINEK, Bill USA, Utah In: We Left J Ws - A Non-Prophet Organiza-tion (1979) E C Gruss. Died 1957 July
KOSACK, Lisa 12 Canada, Ontario Awake! 1994 5/22 p. 14
Kumuko 15   The Watchtower 1995 1/15 7
LAWSON, Audrey 31 Canada, Alberta The Vancouver Province 1987 December 9
MAINZ, Dina 24 Denmark Ekstrabladet 1996 10/21
MATTHEWS, Beverley 33 England Guardian 2000 January 20
Man England The Advertiser (South Australia) 1979 Jan. 8
Man 47 USA, California The Modesto Bee 1992 August 16
Man  Spain, Gerona El Periodico 1993 September 17
MAINZ, Dina 24 Denmark Ekstrabladet 1996 October 21
MANGIONE, Joanne 30 USA, New York Buffalo News Sunrise Edition 1990 Dec. 7
MARTINEZ, Lenae 12 USA, California Awake! 1994 May 22 p.10
MAURER, Eleanor 31 USA, New York The News (SA) 1979 September 21;
The Boston Herald 1979 September 19
MORGAN, Dan   1975 Yearbook of J Ws p. 224.  Died 1957
Mrs E J 55   Canadian Medical Ass. J 1961 May 27 p. 1189
Mrs M C   Canadian Medical Ass. J 1961 May 27 p. 1188
MUSCARIELLO, Samuel   1975 Yearbook of JWs p. 223 Died 1949
NIELSEN, Doreen 49 USA, Ohio Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 1992 May 9
No name 44    Sunday Mail (South Aust.) 1975 June 1
ORTEGA, Juan 38 USA Miami Herald 1988 August 31
"other Jehovah babies" Australia, NSW The Sun 1960 March 25
PASSLEY, Herma 27 England The News (South Aust.) 1975 March 16
PELZEK, Robert 22 USA, Wisconsin In: I Was Raised a J W (1997 edition) Joe Hewitt p. 127.  Death 8/1968
PEOPLES, Minnie 35 USA, Rock Hill The Charlotte Observer 1999 June 25
PERRICONE, John 3 USA, New Jersey The New York Times 1961 March 5
PERROTA, Angelique 3 New Zealand Aukland Times 1996 August 17
PEYTON, Ms.   Discover 1988 August
PICKUP, 57 Australia Insight (TV program) 1991 March 7
POOLE, Thomas 37 USA, Florida Miami Herald 1991 March 7
RAMSEY, Mark 27 USA, Florida Miami Herald 1985 February 21
RAPLEY, Siman 30 Australia, QLD Unreferenced newspaper 1996 10/3
RATTENBURY, Kevin 14 USA, Michigan Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 1991 Aug.
Renata 14 Brazil The Watchtower 1982 August 1 p.22
Retirement-age couple USA, San Antonio Mount Forest Confederate 2000 March 8
RIBERAS, Judith 14 Spain, Zaragoza El Mundo 1994 September 17
RICKETTS, Gary 23 England TV Quick (London) 1992 November 7-13
SIERRA, Mrs M L  Spain Alternativa 2.000, No. 3 July-Aug. 1990
SMITH, June M 23 Australia, WA The Advertiser (South Aust.) 1975 Jan. 9
STEVENS, Avril F 24 Australia, SA The Advertiser (South Aust.) 1965 June 8
STRATON, Kim 33 USA, Kentucky Courier-Journal 1981 July 19
SULKYE, Carol 26 Canada, Ontario Toronto Star 1982 January 20
TEENEY, Susan 27 England TV Quick (London) 1993 July 31
THAMES, Cedric 23 USA, Florida The Orlando Sentinel 1992 August 14
TRUONG, John 24   Cox News Service 1989 July 8
VALLAS, Marcos 13 Spain, Zaragoza El Mundo 1994 September 17
Vietnamese woman USA Paul Blizzard web site 1996 April 16
WALKER, Joshua 16 Canada, New Brunswick The Daily News (Halifax) 1994 October 6
WALTER, Irene 2 Austria Awake! 1972 September 22 pp.17-21
WARNER, Bridget V 21 USA, Florida The Morning Call 1986 April 28
WILLIAMS, Charles 33 USA, Michigan The Boston Globe 1981 August 9
WILSON, Dianne, L 27 Australia, SA The News (South Aust.) 1985 January 30
Woman 18 Australia The Lancet 1990? Volume 336 p. 1075
Woman 26 Australia, Qld. Herald Sun 1998 December 23 p. 5; The Australian 1998 December 12
Woman 44 Australia, SA Sunday Mail (South Australia) 1974 June 2
Woman Ellice Islands 1971 Yearbook of JWs p. 131
Woman 39 New Zealand The Advertiser (South Aust.) 1960 May 18
Woman 83 Norway Dagbladet 1995 October 26
Woman 62 USA Journal of Abdominal Surgery 1967 June p. 161
Woman USA, California Awake! 1992 September 22 p. 12
Woman 20 USA, Illinois JAMA 1990 September; Register Star (Illinois, Rockford) 1990 September 6
Woman 88 USA, Los Angeles SF Sunday Examiner & Chronicle 1982 Oct. 3
Woman Aust. Melbourne The Advertiser (SA) 2000 July 28
Woman Zambia Times of Zambia 1997 September 26
YEATTS, Adrian 15 Canada Awake! 1994 5/22 8
24 youngsters   Awake! 1994 May 22—count on front cover.
Note, three are named in this present list.
3 to 15 dead USA JAMA 1977 September 19 p. 1256-1258

TABLE 2—Unreferenced Deaths

BAZOWSKY, Alexander 5 New Brunswick 1989 July
BRANNAN, Devon 30s USA, Ohio 1986
BROOKS, Kelly   USA, Michigan 1984
BROWN, Jared 10? Canada, Ontario 1989
CLAY, Barbara 78 USA, Mississippi 1997 September 6
CONROY, Estella 50+ USA, Missouri 1990 September 3
CRABTREE, George   USA, Michigan 1966
GONZALEZ, Nelida 55 Puerto Rico 1992 November
GRANVOLD, Judy 38 USA, California 1985 May
HARTLEY, Michelle 23 USA, Florida 1983
JAUDON, Lora 29 USA, New Jersey 1989 April
MACDONALD, Donald 27 USA, California 1985 May
MENDEZ, Tony   USA 1995 June 6
MIRANDA, Ernie 30s USA, New York 1989 December 27
MOODY, Arvid 68 USA, Massachusetts 1978 June
PARKER, Buck 1 day USA, New York 1986 February 11
PEYTON Mrs      
SAMPLE, Elizabeth 57 USA, Michigan 1988 May
SCHULTZ, Tammy 26 USA, Oregon 1995 May 24
SWISHER, Walter 37 USA, Indiana 1994 May 6
WILLIAMS, Charles      
WILLIAMS, Mary 41   1971 November
woman   USA, Chicago 1997 November
woman   USA Chicago 1997 December 18

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