My previous posts have sketched a picture of a strange religion with some odd doctrines. The oddest and most controversial is The Blood Issue. I don’t have the space here to go into great detail about this doctrine, so I’ll boil it down for you. (Read more here.)
JWs will not accept a blood transfusion, even if their life depends upon it. Even if their child’s life depends upon it, which is where things can get tricky with the court system. But, I digress.
The reason for this extraordinary stand can be found in the Old Testament as far back as Genesis 9:4 where God tells Noah (after the flood) that he and his descendants can now eat meat, but not blood. Okay, so you slaughter an animal and drain the blood from it before you eat it. Makes sense. We do that today.
In the Law given to Moses, this prohibition is mentioned again in Leviticus 17:14 where it says basically the same thing that Noah was told. Okay, we got it the first time. Drain a slaughtered animal.
Christianity replaced Judaism as the approved form of worship, and the old law given to Moses was abolished, so Christians are not under obligation to observe its tenets. You would think that the prohibition on blood would be part of the abolished law, but according to the JW interpretation Paul restated that law as applicable for Christians. Acts 15:28, 29 where Paul said to “keep abstaining from …blood.”
Okay, got it. Drain your slaughtered animals – same ol’ same ol’.
Not so fast. Of course, blood transfusions didn’t exist as a common medical treatment until the 20th century, something the writers of the Bible could not have foreseen. Prior to 1945, JWs accepted blood transfusions.
Somewhere along the line, however, bigwigs at the World HQ decided that taking a blood transfusion constituted “eating blood.” (The Governing Body did not exist at that time, so the decision would have been made by the President of the Society, Nathan Knorr, and his cronies.) From then on, it was forbidden for JWs to accept blood transfusions. Period. They can’t even bank their own blood to be used later as an autologous transfusion. Once the blood leaves the body it is to be poured into the dust (this was the ancient custom) or disposed of.
But, wait. Didn’t Noah, the ancient Israelites, and the first-century Christians understand this command to mean not to eat blood, like, dine upon it, put it into your mouth and swallow? Blood transfusions are administered intravenously, not orally. I can’t remember any occasion where I ate a cheeseburger through an IV line. How do you justify such a jump in logic?
The reasoning behind this odd interpretation of Paul’s words is summed up in this illustration, which JWs have heard about 10 million times: “If your doctor told you to abstain from drinking alcohol but you decided to get around his order by taking it intravenously, would you be obeying his order?”
Um, well, no, I guess not. OMG! Such unassailable logic! Taking a substance by mouth is no different than taking it intravenously. You’re still taking it into your body.
Of course, any scientific mind, any logical mind, could shoot dozens of holes in the Society’s argument without even breaking a sweat. However, JWs are not allowed to consider another viewpoint as it would be a treasonous act to do so. They’re stuck with whatever the Society chooses to tell them.
A loyal JW who is dying for want of a blood transfusion or who is watching his beloved child going the same way is left with an agonizing decision. Take the blood and live for short time before you are destroyed at Armageddon for your rebellion, or loyally refuse the blood and fall asleep in death for a short time before your resurrection as a faithful servant of God and then live forever in paradise on earth.
If you are a fully indoctrinated JW, you might shed a few tears, but your decision will be to refuse the transfusion. Many JWs have died this way thinking they were pleasing God and assuring their resurrection by refusing blood. Many families have lost a mother or father or beloved child because of this doctrine. The Society even published an issue of their Awake magazine (May 22, 1994) which lionized children who had willingly faced death or given up their lives for this doctrine.
At first, the ban on blood was comprehensive, any blood product was forbidden. In the 1990s, with the advance of medical science, so many blood fractions were in use for various ailments that the Society had to get out their hair-splitting equipment and get to work. The first word we had on this radical change in policy was that it was a conscience matter, although I knew a couple who chose to treat an Rh-factor issue with a blood fraction in the ‘90s, and it caused some congregation members’ noses to be put out of joint.
Needless to say, it came as a bit of a shock to long-time JWs, including me, that there was now a gray area in The Blood Issue. What if you’d been a JW in the early 90s and needed one of these blood fractions to save your life or your child’s life, but you refused because of the understanding at the time? To see an about-face in policy just a few years later would be galling, but as usual the Society used some slick reasoning to smooth all the ruffled feathers.
So, now the use of certain blood fractions is hunky-dory with the Governing Body. But they still want you to face death if you are presented with the need for a blood transfusion.
Ah, but there are other ways to die at the order of the Watchtower Society. More on that next week.
Note: The Ex-JW community lost a member to suicide last week because of the harsh JW practice of shunning. RIP Eric Reeder.