Definition: A truly marvelous fluid that circulates in the vascular system of humans and most multicelled animals, supplying nourishment and oxygen, carrying away waste products, and playing a major role in safeguarding the body against infection. So intimately is blood involved in the life processes that the Bible says “the soul of the flesh is in the blood.” (Lev. 17:11) As the Source of life, Jehovah has provided definite instructions regarding the use to which blood may be put.
Christians are commanded to ‘abstain from blood’
Acts 15:28, 29: “The holy spirit and we ourselves [the governing body of the Christian congregation] have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things, to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled [or, killed without draining their blood] and from fornication. If you carefully keep yourselves from these things, you will prosper. Good health to you!” (There the eating of blood is equated with idolatry and fornication, things that we should not want to engage in.)
Animal flesh may be eaten, but not the blood
Gen. 9:3, 4: “Every moving animal that is alive may serve as food for you. As in the case of green vegetation, I do give it all to you. Only flesh with its soul—its blood—you must not eat.”
Any animal used for food should be properly bled. One that is strangled or that dies in a trap or that is found after it has died is not suitable for food. (Acts 15:19, 20; compare Leviticus 17:13-16.) Similarly, any food to which whole blood or even some blood fraction has been added should not be eaten.
Only sacrificial use of blood has ever been approved by God
Lev. 17:11, 12: “The soul of the flesh is in the blood, and I myself have put it upon the altar for you to make atonement for your souls, because it is the blood that makes atonement by the soul in it. That is why I have said to the sons of Israel: ‘No soul of you must eat blood and no alien resident who is residing as an alien in your midst should eat blood.’” (All those animal sacrifices under the Mosaic Law foreshadowed the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ.)
Heb. 9:11-14, 22: “When Christ came as a high priest . . . he entered, no, not with the blood of goats and of young bulls, but with his own blood, once for all time into the holy place and obtained an everlasting deliverance for us. For if the blood of goats and of bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who have been defiled sanctifies to the extent of cleanness of the flesh, how much more will the blood of the Christ, who through an everlasting spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works that we may render sacred service to the living God? . . . Unless blood is poured out no forgiveness takes place.”
Eph. 1:7: “By means of him [Jesus Christ] we have the release by ransom through the blood of that one, yes, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his undeserved kindness.”
How did those who claimed to be Christians in early centuries C.E. understand the Bible’s commands regarding blood?
Tertullian (c. 160-230 C.E.): “Let your unnatural ways blush before the Christians. We do not even have the blood of animals at our meals, for these consist of ordinary food. . . . At the trials of Christians you [pagan Romans] offer them sausages filled with blood. You are convinced, of course, that the very thing with which you try to make them deviate from the right way is unlawful for them. How is it that, when you are confident that they will shudder at the blood of an animal, you believe they will pant eagerly after human blood?”—Tertullian, Apologetical Works, and Minucius Felix, Octavius (New York, 1950), translated by Emily Daly, p. 33.
Minucius Felix (third century C.E.): “So much do we shrink from human blood, that we do not use the blood even of eatable animals in our food.”—The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, Mich.; 1956), edited by A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, Vol. IV, p. 192.
Does the Bible’s prohibition include human blood?
Yes, and early Christians understood it that way. Acts 15:29 says to “keep abstaining from . . . blood.” It does not say merely to abstain from animal blood. (Compare Leviticus 17:10, which prohibited eating “any sort of blood.”) Tertullian (who wrote in defense of the beliefs of early Christians) stated: “The interdict upon ‘blood’ we shall understand to be (an interdict) much more upon human blood.”—The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, p. 86.
Is a transfusion really the same as eating blood?
In a hospital, when a patient cannot eat through his mouth, he is fed intravenously. Now, would a person who never put blood into his mouth but who accepted blood by transfusion really be obeying the command to “keep abstaining from . . . blood”? (Acts 15:29) To use a comparison, consider a man who is told by the doctor that he must abstain from alcohol. Would he be obedient if he quit drinking alcohol but had it put directly into his veins?
In the case of a patient that refuses blood, are there any alternative treatments?
Often simple saline solution, Ringer’s solution, and dextran can be used as plasma volume expanders, and these are available in nearly all modern hospitals. Actually, the risks that go with use of blood transfusions are avoided by using these substances. The Canadian Anaesthetists’ Society Journal (January 1975, p. 12) says: “The risks of blood transfusion are the advantages of plasma substitutes: avoidance of bacterial or viral infection, transfusion reactions and Rh sensitization.” Jehovah’s Witnesses have no religious objection to the use of nonblood plasma expanders.
Jehovah’s Witnesses actually benefit from better medical treatment because they do not accept blood. A doctor writing in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (June 1, 1968, p. 395) acknowledged: “There is no doubt that the situation where you [the surgeon] are operating without the possibility of transfusion tends to improve your surgery. You are a little bit more aggressive in clamping every bleeding vessel.”
All types of surgery can be performed successfully without blood transfusions. This includes open-heart operations, brain surgery, amputation of limbs, and total removal of cancerous organs. Writing in the New York State Journal of Medicine (October 15, 1972, p. 2527), Dr. Philip Roen said: “We have not hesitated to perform any and all indicated surgical procedures in the face of proscribed blood replacement.” Dr. Denton Cooley, at the Texas Heart Institute, said: “We became so impressed with the results [from using nonblood plasma expanders] on the Jehovah’s Witnesses that we started using the procedure on all our heart patients.” (The San Diego Union, December 27, 1970, p. A-10) “‘Bloodless’ open-heart surgery, originally developed for adult members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect because their religion forbids blood transfusions, now has been safely adapted for use in delicate cardiac procedures in infants and children.”—Cardiovascular News, February 1984, p. 5.
If Someone Says—
‘You let your children die because you refuse blood transfusions. I think that’s terrible’
You might reply: ‘But we do allow them to have transfusions—the safer kind. We accept the kind of transfusions that don’t carry the risk of such things as AIDS, hepatitis, and malaria. We want the best treatment for our children, as I am sure that any loving parent would.’ Then perhaps add: (1) ‘When there is severe blood loss, the greatest need is to restore the fluid volume. No doubt you realize that our blood is actually over 50 percent water; then there are the red and white cells, and so forth. When much blood is lost, the body itself pours large reserves of blood cells into the system and speeds up production of new ones. But fluid volume is needed. Plasma volume expanders that contain no blood can be used to fill that need, and we accept these.’ (2) ‘Plasma volume expanders have been used on thousands of persons, with excellent results.’ (3) ‘Even more important to us is what the Bible itself says at Acts 15:28, 29.’
Or you could say: ‘I can understand your point of view. I suppose you are imagining your own child in that situation. As parents we would do everything possible to safeguard our child’s welfare, wouldn’t we? So if folks like you and me were going to refuse some sort of medical treatment for our child, there would certainly have to be some compelling reason for it.’ Then perhaps add: (1) ‘Do you think that some parents might be influenced by what God’s Word says here at Acts 15:28, 29?’ (2) ‘So the question is, Do we have enough faith to do what God commands?’
‘You people don’t believe in blood transfusions’
You might reply: ‘The newspapers have published stories about some situations in which they felt that Witnesses might die if they did not accept blood. Is that what you have in mind? . . . Why do we take the position we do?’ Then perhaps add: (1) ‘Do you love your wife (husband) enough that you would be willing to risk your life for her (him)? . . . There are also men who risk their lives for their country, and they are viewed as heroes, aren’t they? But there is someone who is greater than any person or thing here on earth, and that is God. Would you risk your life because of love for him and loyalty to his rulership?’ (2) ‘The issue here really is loyalty to God. It is God’s Word that tells us to abstain from blood. (Acts 15:28, 29)’
Or you could say: ‘There are many things that are rather common today and that Jehovah’s Witnesses shun—for example, lying, adultery, stealing, smoking, and as you mentioned, the use of blood. Why? Because we govern our lives by God’s Word.’ Then perhaps add: (1) ‘Did you know that the Bible says we should “abstain from blood”? I would like to show it to you. (Acts 15:28, 29)’ (2) ‘Perhaps you recall that God told our first parents, Adam and Eve, that they could eat from every tree in Eden except one. But they disobeyed, ate that forbidden fruit, and lost everything. How unwise! Now, of course, there is no tree with forbidden fruit. But after the Flood of Noah’s day God again set out one prohibition for mankind. This time it involved blood. (Gen. 9:3, 4)’ (3) ‘So the real question is, Do we have faith in God? If we obey him, we have before us the prospect of eternal life in perfection under his Kingdom. Even if we die, he assures us of a resurrection.’
‘What if a doctor says, “You will die without a blood transfusion”?’
You might reply: ‘If the situation is really that serious, can the doctor guarantee that the patient will not die if he is given blood?’ Then perhaps add: ‘But there is someone who can give a person life again, and that is God. Don’t you agree that, when face to face with death, turning one’s back on God by violating his law would be a poor decision? I truly have faith in God. Do you? His Word promises a resurrection for those who put faith in his Son. Do you believe that? (John 11:25)’
Or you could say: ‘It may mean that he personally does not know how to handle the case without the use of blood. If possible, we try to put him in touch with a doctor who has had the needed experience, or we engage the services of another doctor.’