The Real Value of Blood
“The global community shares a common life source: blood. It is the life force in all human beings, regardless of colour, race or religion.”—President of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
WITHOUT question, there is a measure of truth in that quote. Blood is essential to all human life. It is a precious resource. Are you convinced, though, that it is safe and wise for humans to share that fluid for medical purposes?
As we have learned, worldwide safety standards are highly variable, and treatments with blood are riskier than many assume. Furthermore, physicians differ widely in their use of blood because of education, skills, and viewpoints. Yet, many are increasingly cautious about transfusing blood. A significant and growing number of doctors are showing a preference for medical treatments that avoid the use of blood.
That brings us back to a question posed at the outset of the first article of this series. Just what is it that makes blood so valuable? If the medical use of blood is increasingly questionable, is there another purpose that blood fulfills?
Our Creator and Blood
Back in the days of Noah, an ancestor of all mankind, God laid down a remarkable law. While granting humans the right to eat the flesh of animals, he forbade them to consume the blood. (Genesis 9:4) He also gave them his reason, equating blood with the soul, or life, of the creature. He later said: “The soul [or life] is in the blood.” In the eyes of the Creator, blood is sacred. It represents the precious gift of life that each living soul possesses. God restated this principle again and again.—Leviticus 3:17; 17:10, 11, 14; Deuteronomy 12:16, 23.
Shortly after Christianity was founded some 2,000 years ago, believers were given the divine commandment to “abstain from . . . blood.” The prohibition was based, not on health concerns, but on the sacredness of blood. (Acts 15:19, 20, 29) Some argue that this God-given restriction applies only to the eating of blood, but the word “abstain” speaks for itself. If a doctor told us to abstain from alcohol, we would hardly feel at liberty to inject it into our veins.
The Bible further explains why blood is so sacred. The shed blood of Jesus Christ, representing the human life that he gave in behalf of mankind, is key to the Christian hope. It means forgiveness of sins and hope of eternal life. When a Christian abstains from blood, he is in effect expressing his faith that only the shed blood of Jesus Christ can truly redeem him and save his life.—Ephesians 1:7.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are well known for taking these Bible commands to heart. They reject all transfusions involving whole blood or the four primary blood components—red cells, plasma, white cells, and platelets. As for the various fractions derived from those components—and products that contain such fractions—the Bible does not comment on these. Therefore, each Witness makes his own personal decision on such matters. Does this Bible-based stand mean that Witnesses reject medical treatment or view their health and life lightly? Not at all!—See the box “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Health.”
In recent years more than a few doctors have recognized that Witnesses have benefited medically from adhering to the Bible’s standard. For instance, a spine surgeon recently spoke out in favor of choosing alternatives to blood transfusions. He said: “It’s absolutely the safest thing to do, not just for Jehovah’s Witnesses, but for everyone.”
Serious health decisions can cause a great deal of stress and are often difficult to make. Regarding the common practice of transfusing blood, note the words of respirologist and medical director Dr. Dave Williams: “It’s important that we respect people’s wishes, . . . and we need to be very careful about what we put into our bodies.” Those words ring true—and never more so than today.
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What Are Hemoglobin-Based Oxygen Carriers?
Within each red blood cell are some 300 million hemoglobin molecules. Hemoglobin represents about one third of the volume of a mature red cell. Each molecule contains the protein globin and a pigment called heme—which includes an iron atom. When a red blood cell passes through the lungs, oxygen molecules penetrate the cell and attach themselves to hemoglobin molecules. Seconds later, the oxygen is discharged into body tissue, sustaining the life of the cells.
Some manufacturers now process hemoglobin, releasing it from human or bovine red blood cells. The extracted hemoglobin is then filtered to remove impurities, chemically modified and purified, mixed with a solution, and packaged. The end product—not yet approved for use in most lands—is called a hemoglobin-based oxygen carrier, or HBOC. Since the heme is responsible for the rich red color of blood, a unit of HBOC looks just like a unit of red blood cells, the primary component from which it is taken.
Unlike red blood cells, which must be refrigerated and discarded after a few weeks, the HBOC can be stored at room temperature and used months later. And since the cell membrane with its unique antigens is gone, severe reactions due to mismatched blood types pose no threat. However, compared with other blood fractions, the HBOC presents more challenges to conscientious Christians, who seek to obey God’s law on blood. Why? As long as the HBOC is derived from blood, there are two objections that may be raised. One, the HBOC carries out the key function of a primary component of blood, the red cells. Two, hemoglobin, from which the HBOC is derived, makes up a significant portion of that component. Regarding this and similar products, then, Christians face a very serious decision. They must carefully and prayerfully meditate on Bible principles concerning the sacredness of blood. With a keen desire to maintain a good relationship with Jehovah, each must be guided by his Bible-trained conscience.—Galatians 6:5.
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An Inviting Option
“A growing number of hospitals are offering an alternative: ‘bloodless’ surgery,” reported The Wall Street Journal. “Originally developed to accommodate Jehovah’s Witnesses,” states the journal, “the practice has gone mainstream, with many hospitals promoting their bloodless-surgery programs to the general public.” Hospitals around the world are discovering numerous benefits, particularly to patients, when implementing strategies that curtail the use of blood transfusions. Currently, thousands of doctors are treating patients without resorting to transfusions.
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Jehovah’s Witnesses and Health
Jehovah’s Witnesses, some of whom are physicians and nurses, are known worldwide for their rejection of transfusions involving whole blood or primary blood components. Does their united stand against this practice stem from a man-made doctrine or a belief that a person’s faith can heal medical ailments? That is far from the truth.
Cherishing their life as a gift from God, the Witnesses strive to do their best to live according to the Bible, which they believe is “inspired of God.” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17; Revelation 4:11) That book encourages worshippers of God to avoid practices and habits that harm health or endanger life, such as overeating, smoking or chewing tobacco, abusing alcohol, and using drugs for recreational purposes.—Proverbs 23:20; 2 Corinthians 7:1.
By keeping our body and surroundings clean and getting some physical exercise for health reasons, we are acting in harmony with Bible principles. (Matthew 7:12; 1 Timothy 4:8) When Jehovah’s Witnesses get sick, they demonstrate reasonableness by seeking medical care and accepting the vast majority of available treatment options. (Philippians 4:5) True, they obey the Bible command to “keep abstaining from . . . blood,” insisting on nonblood medical management. (Acts 15:29) And this choice often results in a higher quality of treatment.