Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Watchtower's Prohibition Against Non-Food Uses of Blood

In my section “Uses of Blood” in my Chapter 9 of the Third Edition of Jehovah's Witnesses Defended, on pages 574-575 I show when and why the Watchtower Society transformed its blood policy in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It has changed in more ways since then, but the fundamental flaw in the Watchtower’s view on uses of blood and the Bible remains: Blood transfusions = eating blood or being nourished by blood. The result is, in part, some people loyal to the Watchtower Society may die without understanding what is truly involved with the Society’s policy.

For example, in “Questions from Readers,” The Watchtower, September 15, 1958, on page 575, we find one important place where the Watchtower’s unfortunate, blood transfusion = blood eating error appears to have taken root. Here the Society responds to a question about whether the injection of serums and blood fractions (such as gamma globulin) for the purpose of building up resistance to disease is the same as drinking or transfusing blood or blood plasma. Consider the Society’s answer (with my underlining added):

No, it does not seem necessary that we put the two in the same category, although we have done so in times past. Each time the prohibition of blood is mentioned in the Scriptures it is in connection with taking it as food, and so it is as a nutrient that we are concerned with in its being forbidden. ... The injection of antibodies into the blood in a vehicle of blood serum or the use of blood fractions to create such antibodies is not the same as taking blood, either by mouth or by transfusion, as a nutrient to build up the body’s vital forces. While God did not intend for man to contaminate his blood stream by vaccines, serums or [the use of] blood fractions, doing so does not seem to be included in God’s expressed will forbidding blood as food. It would [now, late in 1958,] therefore be a matter of individual judgment whether one accepted such types of medication or not.

Then in 1961 the Watchtower Society radically changed its blood policy to the following position but which still relied on the false equation of eating blood as a food with transfusing blood as blood and not as a food or nutrient (underling and other emphasis added):

God’s law definitely says that the soul of man is in his blood [see Lev 17:11]. Hence the receiver of the blood transfusion is feeding upon a God-given soul as contained in the blood vehicle of a fellow man or of fellow men. This is a violation of God’s commands to Christians, the seriousness of which should not be minimized by any passing over of it lightly as being an optional matter for the conscience of any individual to decide upon. [“Questions from Readers,” The Watchtower, January 15, 1961, page 64.]

Here it has become a question of "feeding up a God-given soul" contained "in the blood," rather than the blood itself. Yet, this a metaphysical view of the "soul" in the blood in a way that allows it to serve as a physical food of sorts by providing life, versus anything physical about the blood that may require prohibition. In other words, the concern here is not about what is sacred to God (the blood containing the soul) but what effect the soul-containing blood has on another person, specifically, when a person receives such blood as a "transfusion," not as or part of a food.

However, the fact is transfused blood is not usable as food or as nourishment but only as blood which may then “carry nourishment … to the tissues” (Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, Clayton L. Thomas, ed., 16th edition [Philadelphia, PA: F.A. Davis Company, 1989], page 223, under Blood). The transfused blood itself is not consumed as a “food,” the way it would be if it were eaten or drank through the mouth and then broken down like other foods through the digestion process. This could be, to use the Society's 1964 words quoted above, "feeding upon a God-given soul as contained in the blood." But when a person is starving to death a transfusion of blood does not provide nourishment for the body, that is, unless actual “food” or nourishment is next added to the body and then the transfused blood carries it “to the tissues” (Taber's, page 223). 

That the "soul" is in the transfused blood according to the Bible does not change this in any way, that is, the "soul" part of the blood still does not provide nourishment or "life" to any person on its own when transfused with blood. Further, there is no evidence of the "soul" in the blood being consumed (= "feeding upon") in any way during a medical transfusion of blood: Transfused blood is used as blood by the recipient's body, not as a food or as nourishment of any kind. It is similar with organ transplants, which is what a blood transfusion is since the organs are not ‘eaten’ by the body once they have been transplanted, and neither do the transplanted organs serve as “food” or as “nourishment,” as I explained. Organs, including blood, have specific purposes and functions created and designed by God. Transfusing blood is one way for blood to continue to function according to its designed purpose, while eating blood or organs as "food" does not permit any of them to continue working in the body according to their intended purpose(s).

Here is another look at how the Watchtower Society blurs this distinction between eaten blood and transfused blood, and how in the process I believe it further misapplies the biblical prohibition concerning uses of blood:

Q. Why did Octávio Corrêa refuse the blood transfusion?

A. Basically because of the Bible’s prohibition as to the use of blood for nourishment or to prolong life. The Great Encyclopedia Delta Larousse (Portuguese) says: “Blood is living tissue that runs in the circulatory system and whose main functions are: 1) to carry needed nutritive substances and oxygen to all tissues in the body; 2) to collect and take residues, useless or dangerous to the cellular activity, to the excretory organs (kidneys, lungs, skin, etc.).” (P. 6079) Thus, blood nourishes and cleans the body. Jehovah God, who knows more about blood than anyone else, prohibited the eating of blood. His Word, the Bible, states: “Only do not eat flesh with its life in it, that is, the blood.”—Gen. 9:4, Pontifical Bible Institute, Rome, Paulinas Editions, Brazil. [“Freedom of Worship Triumphant,” Awake! August 8, 1977, page 7 (underlining added).]

The Watchtower publication Awake! here quotes a source which speaks of blood as ‘carrying needed nutritive substances.’ But the Society then equates “the eating of blood” with transfusing blood. The Society does not here present the obvious differences between eaten blood and transfused blood even when it quotes a publication which makes the differences plain! In this same light, consider these more recent claims from The Watchtower:

Decades ago Jehovah’s Witnesses made their stand clear. For example, they supplied an article to The Journal of the American Medical Association (November 27, 1981; reprinted in How Can Blood Save Your Life? pages 27-9). That article quoted from [1] Genesis, Leviticus, and Acts. It said: “While these verses are not stated in medical terms, Witnesses view them as ruling out transfusion of whole blood, packed RBCs [red blood cells], and plasma, as well as WBC [white blood cell] and platelet administration.” [2] The 2001 textbook Emergency Care, under “Composition of the Blood,” stated: “The blood is made up of several components: plasma, red and white blood cells, and platelets.” [3] Thus, in line with medical facts, Witnesses refuse transfusions of whole blood or of any of its four primary components. [“Be Guided by the Living God,” The Watchtower, June 15, 2004, pages 21-22, par. 11 (underlined and bracketed numbers have been added).]

I have added the underlined and bracketed numbers, similar to what I presented in my “Uses of Blood” section. These numbers correspond to the following comments concerning the subject statements in the above quoted Watchtower:

[1]: Genesis, Leviticus, and Acts … [rule] out transfusion[s] of whole blood, packed [red blood cells], and plasma, as well as [white blood cells] and platelet administration.

Comment: Not one text in any of the three biblical books referenced by The Watchtower says or even implies anything about using blood for medical transfusions and where the blood continues to serve as blood, not as food or “nourishment,” in the human body. Further, not one of the three biblical books cited explicitly teaches or implies anything about uses of blood’s major “components” (red cells, white cells, platelets, and plasma), as if they should under any circumstance be viewed differently from uses of blood’s “fractions.”

[2]: The 2001 textbook Emergency Care, under “Composition of the Blood,” stated: “The blood is made up of several components: plasma, red and white blood cells, and platelets.”

Comment: The Society here quotes a textbook definition for “blood” which makes it plain that blood is “made up of several components,” namely, “plasma, red and white blood cells, and platelets.” After noting this textbook’s definition, The Watchtower concludes:

[3]: Thus, in line with medical facts, Witnesses refuse transfusions of whole blood or of any of its four primary components.

Comment: The only ‘fact’ from The Watchtower’s quote from Emergency Care is that blood is “made up of several components.” In stating this, the medical textbook is not claiming that any one of these four components of blood is blood or should be considered as blood. Indeed, the textbook’s definition shows all four are necessary for “blood.” None of the components of blood are “blood” individually or apart from all four being together as blood. So there is no ‘medical fact’ with which the Society is here “in line with” as it relates to its policy of refusing “transfusions of whole blood or of any of its four primary components.” Yet, this is the stated reason for why the Society quotes Emergency Care’s definition of “blood” in the first place.

The definition of “blood” from Emergency Care and which is quoted with approval in The Watchtower, actually supports the position of those who reject the Society’s view that these four components of blood should be viewed individually as “blood.” Simply quoting a medical textbook’s definition for “blood” which shows that blood has four primary components (from which components blood fractions are then derived) does not provide any “medical facts” which support the Society’s view that these components should be rejected as blood. This is a logical fallacy committed by The Watchtower, as shown in note 53 on page 586 of my “Uses of Blood” section.

In citing the 2001 textbook Emergency Care, the Watchtower Society has not only misapplied the textbook’s own expressed definition as support for its own unique view of blood’s components, but the Society does this using a definition which contradicts the Society’s own expressed view of blood’s four primary components. The definition for blood in Emergency Care clearly shows the components of blood are not blood, individually since, again, blood is “made up of” all four primary components, together.

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and its followers have not put forth any medical, scientific, or biblical good reasons for claiming that eating blood as a food is the same thing as transfusing blood to serve as blood (but not as a food) in the human body during a life-threatening emergency. The Society also has not shown the "soul" in the blood, according to the Bible, is in any way 'fed upon' by the recipient of a blood transfusion for the purpose of using the transfused blood as blood, not as a food or nutrient. Further, the Society has no basis in medical science or in biblical teaching to claim blood’s components are or should be considered the same as blood where it concerns the Bible’s prohibition. The only clear effort the Watchtower Society has expended to try and document its unique view of blood’s components from accepted medical science is to misquote a medical textbook’s definition which, in fact, contradicts the Society’s own expressed understanding and use of that very same 2001 medical textbook.

The Watchtower Society has consistently misapplied biblical texts which prohibit the use of blood as a “food” to medical transfusions of blood which do not ‘feed’ the body nor provide a "soul" for the recipient's body to 'feed upon,' but which transfused blood might save a person’s life by provide more of the organ (blood) lost or needed to carry nourishment to other organs and to remove toxins. For these and for other reasons, I no longer support the work of the Watchtower Society or its views and teachings on the subject of uses of blood.