Jehovahıs Witnesses and Blood

Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to take in blood or its major components for religious reasons. They believe that blood is sacred and should only be used as God designates. Witnesses base their position on an interpretation of Biblical texts that prohibit the taking of blood into the body for the purpose of sustaining the body’s functions.

A bag of blood, hanging in a hospital and ready for transfusion

A medical device consisting of a container attached to several tubes that are filled with blood
Critical situations still arise in which doctors consider blood an indispensable treatment.

A historical illustration of a doctor holding a blood transfusion bag over a patient, who is lying in bed and holding his hand up to shun the procedure
Jehovah's Witness publications encourage members to resist blood transfusions

The Witnesses argue that this prohibition includes intravenous transfusions, which may bypass the digestive system but still nourish the body. This includes use of the patient’s own pre-stored blood. The official Witness position rejects the taking in of whole blood or its four major components—red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma and platelets. Advancements in blood technology have enabled doctors to fractionate these components even further, extracting elements such as clotting factors, immune globulin and hemoglobin. In cases of treatments involving such blood derivatives, individual Jehovah’s Witnesses are allowed to decide for themselves which blood fractions, if any, are personally acceptable. This difference of opinion is tolerated within the congregation, and each Witness is encouraged at all times to carry a legally executed document stating his or her choices.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have often fought with the medical establishment over their right to determine medical treatment. Witnesses sought good medical care, but they flatly refused blood transfusions for themselves and their children on religious grounds, even if critically sick or injured. In cases of life-threatening illness or injuries, judges often issued emergency court orders, allowing doctors to override patient objections and transfuse if deemed necessary. Witnesses also went to court, arguing for patient autonomy and the patient’s right of informed consent. This tension between medical science and religious conviction created ethical dilemmas for medical professionals and Witness patients alike.

But in more recent years, as doctors have worked to cope with challenges such as tainted blood scandals, widespread fears about the integrity of the blood supply and transfusion matching errors, they have found unlikely partners in Jehovah’s Witnesses. Forced by the HIV epidemic and blood shortages to seek alternatives to transfusions of donated blood, doctors found the Witnesses willing to test new therapies and surgical techniques that would maximize the body’s own blood-producing capacity and minimize blood loss during surgery. Doctors have successfully performed a wide variety of treatments and surgical procedures without blood, including open-heart surgery and organ transplants, such as the one seen in KNOCKING. Research in 2006 shows that there are over 100,000 doctors in the United States that offer some version of bloodless treatment to all patients regardless of religious beliefs.

Read about the history of Jehovah's Witnesses, starting in the late 1800s >>



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