What Is the Bible’s View?
Accept or Refuse Blood Transfusions?
LIKELY you have read newspaper headlines such as: “Jehovah’s Witness Near Death, Refused Blood: Lives to Tell” and “Refusal to Accept Blood Worries Doctors in Kobe [Japan].”
Reading such headlines, some persons have wondered, ‘Why would anyone refuse blood if his life is at stake?’ Yes, why do these Christians refuse blood? It is not primarily because of a fear of medical complications, but because of their firm religious convictions.
Of course, informed persons realize that blood transfusions can be dangerous. As a lecturer on blood transfusion techniques, at a college in Scotland, wrote: “The risks of transfusion are many. Chance bacterial contamination, transmission of disease, blood group incompatibility and the risks of blood group immunisation, are especially important. Blood is not a magic substance and the advantages to the patient . . . should be carefully balanced against the risks.”
Because of such dangers many doctors now try to avoid transfusing blood. But even if such dangers did not exist, Jehovah’s witnesses would refuse blood transfusions.
They take this position because of realizing that this is not merely a medical issue to be decided by doctors or the local courts. It is a matter of Bible law involving Christians who specialize in Bible law, who recognize that they are under Bible law and who are determined to uphold Bible law. It is no passing whim, but is a vital moral issue as to God’s law against a human’s taking in blood in order to sustain his life. Note the evidence for this.
Bible Statements on Blood
While blood is often mentioned in the Bible, certain passages are particularly pertinent to the question of blood transfusions:
As recorded in Genesis 9:3-6, Jehovah God presented to Noah and his family two regulations about regard for life. First, God said: “Every moving animal that is alive may serve as food for you. . . . Only flesh with its soul [life]—its blood—you must not eat.” And, while man might kill an animal for food, about human life Jehovah decreed: “Anyone shedding man’s blood, by man will his own blood be shed, for in God’s image he made man.”
High regard for life—represented by blood—was also reflected in the law that God later gave the ancient Israelites: “Whenever your soul craves it you may slaughter [animals for food] . . . Only the blood you must not eat. On the earth you should pour it out as water. Simply be firmly resolved not to eat the blood, because the blood is the soul [or, life].”—Deut. 12:15, 16, 23; Lev. 17:10-14.
After the death of Jesus the Christian congregation was formed. Were Christians under all the restrictions of the Mosaic law? No, but God was still opposed to the misuse of blood, which represented life. The Christian governing body ruled: “Abstain from things [sacrificed to] idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.”—Acts 15:19, 20, 28, 29; 21:25.
It is true that some persons feel that these texts do not rule out blood transfusions. They believe that these verses present just dietary rules about animal blood, which seem to have little to do with transfusing human blood into the veins so as to save human life. And, furthermore, some persons say that these restrictions applied to Jews and Jewish Christians but are not binding on Christians now. Do you agree?
It is true that Israelites receiving the Mosaic laws about blood would have had in mind the blood of animals killed for food or sacrifice. (Deut. 12:15, 16; Lev. 17:11) But how would they have treated human blood? For example, since the Creator designated blood as representing life, a Jew was prohibited from sustaining his life with animal blood. Even if his life were in jeopardy, it would have been a sin for him to consume animal blood. (1 Sam. 14:31-34) Now, do you think he would have concluded that animal blood was sacred and could not be used but that human blood was less sacred and could be? On the contrary, the Bible plainly shows that human life is higher than animal life. So if even animal blood (representing life) was too sacred to be used, would not human blood also be sacred?
Some persons claim that the Bible restrictions about blood applied only to Jews. But is that so? Recall that long before the law was given through Moses, God had warned Noah—the progenitor of the whole human family—against misusing blood. Was God’s command a mere dietary law?
Professor Gerhard von Rad has pointed out that Genesis 9:3, 4 “is not an isolated ‘dietary law’ at all . . . but an ordinance for all mankind.” (Genesis—A Commentary, 1961) Remember, too, that in Genesis 9:3-6 the prohibition on blood was linked with God’s statement about man’s having even higher regard for the life of other humans. Rabbi Benno Jacob observed:
“The two prohibitions belong together. . . . The permission to eat meat, but without its blood, and the prohibition against shedding human blood indicate the place of man within the world of the living . . . In summary: the reason for the prohibition of blood is of a moral character. . . . Later Judaism regarded this passage as establishing fundamental ethics for every human being.” (Italics added)
This is borne out by the decision of the Christian governing body recorded in Acts 15:19-29. Some persons have claimed that it was a mere temporary extension of the Mosaic law recommended for Christians so as not to offend Jewish sensibilities. But the Christian governing body clearly showed that Bible law requires Christians to continue to hold blood as sacred.
What if, in an emergency, it seems that a blood transfusion apparently offers the best chance to “save a life”? One medical man points out that a patient in
“full possession of his faculties has the right to accept or reject any particular form of medical treatment offered to him. This right is widely recognised already in the case of Roman Catholics . . . By the same token it is difficult to understand why a Jehovah’s Witness should not be allowed similar freedom to refuse blood transfusion. . . . Once one allows the principle that an individual has the right to choose for himself, then any action which over-rules that right is liable to become the thin end of a long wedge. . . . The State is gradually taking over the function of making decisions for the individual. It is in this way that free countries cease to be free and become totalitarian.”
In virtually all situations there are alternative treatments that can be used if blood is not available or is refused. Even if that were not the case, is it not the course of freedom and regard for the rights of others to allow a person to choose what treatment he can accept? And this is even more vital if a Christian is refusing a treatment that violates his understanding of Bible law and the “fundamental ethics” by which he lives!