Preservation by Obedience to God’s Law on Blood
LIFE or death—the choice is yours! But what will determine your choice? Faced with a crisis that involves your life, will you guide your course by the principles found in the Word of God? Or, if that course seems to put your immediate life prospects in peril, will you rather submit to the coercion of men who urge you to set aside the law of God?—Deut. 30:19, 20; Matt. 16:25.
Early Christians refused to compromise. Their fearless preaching of the Word of God brought them into conflict with the Roman world. Since the Christians did not esteem what the Romans considered honorable, their viewpoint was not to be tolerated. Yet it was no glory to Rome simply to destroy them. If only they could be made to recant. With the Roman judges it became their objective, not to have them executed, but to force them by deeds to show that they had abandoned their Christian faith. “If they consented to cast a few grains of incense upon the altar [in worship of the national gods], they were dismissed from the tribunal in safety and with applause.” In his endeavor to cause the prisoners’ emotions to override their Christian convictions, the judge “set before their eyes every circumstance which could render life more pleasing, or death more terrible; and to solicit, nay, to entreat them, that they would show some compassion to themselves, to their families, and to their friends.”a
Nor was the offering of incense to the emperor the only transgression that they sought to induce these Christian witnesses to commit. In speaking out against the practices of the Roman world of his day, the Christian writer Tertullian says: “Let your error blush before the Christians, for we do not include even animals’ blood in our natural diet. We abstain on that account from things strangled or that die of themselves, that we may not in any way be polluted by blood, even if it is buried in the meat. Finally, when you are testing Christians, you offer them sausages full of blood; you are thoroughly well aware, of course, that among them it is forbidden; but you want to make them transgress.”b So well was it known that Christians would not consume blood that even in ancient Rome a violation of this principle on the part of a Christian was considered to be a renunciation of the Christian faith.
Would it not have been a small thing to offer just a pinch of incense to the emperor? Would it really have been such a terrible transgression for a Christian to take a little blood? Early Christians knew that their choice meant life or death. Holding fast to their integrity would assure them the favor of the Life-giver, their God in heaven, and deliverance from death itself by a resurrection to eternal life.—Matt. 24:13.
In their faith they were like the witnesses of Jehovah who had gone before them. Of them it is written: “Men were tortured because they would not accept release by some ransom, in order that they might attain a better resurrection. Yes, others received their trial by mockings and scourgings, indeed, more than that, by bonds and prisons.” God did not prevent their being imprisoned, beaten and even done to death. Yet their faith did not waver. They did not expect to be preserved from trials at the hands of God’s enemies. Their desire was to be preserved in the memory of God by obedience to his commandments, that they might attain the reward of life in the world to come. With strong faith, they refused to be swayed by the coercion of men who urged them to set aside the law of God.—Heb. 11:35-38; 1 Cor. 10:13.
The need for such faith has not lessened in this modern world. The divine commandments are not different for us today than they were for the early Christians. The pressure from the world, whether in the form of brutality or persuasive argument, has not abated. God’s law against idolatry is still upheld by Christians; so is his mandate forbidding the consumption of blood.
GOD’S LAW ON BLOOD
Just what does the Bible say about the use of blood? Immediately after the flood of Noah’s day, over 4,300 years ago, Jehovah God blessed Noah and his sons, whom He had preserved, and with that blessing he included his mandate on blood, saying: “Every creeping 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.” (Gen. 9:3, 4) This divine requirement was emphasized repeatedly to the nation of Israel. Again and again they were told that they must abstain from blood. “Simply be firmly resolved not to eat the blood, because the blood is the soul and you must not eat the soul with the flesh. You must not eat it. You should pour it out upon the ground as water. You must not eat it, in order that it may go well with you and your sons after you, because you will do what is right in Jehovah’s eyes.” Willful violators of this God-given law were put to death.—Deut. 12:23-25; Lev. 17:14.
The prohibition on the consumption of blood did not pass away with the law covenant. It was no mere dietary law of the Jews. It is applicable to all the descendants of Noah, all mankind. Therefore, it was appropriate that in the very first century of the existence of the Christian congregation its governing body should emphasize the importance of the matter and draw it to the attention of all believers again: “For the holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things, to keep yourselves free from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things killed without draining their blood and from fornication. If you carefully keep yourselves from these things, you will prosper.” (Acts 15:28, 29) Yes, it is necessary for Christians to keep themselves free from blood. That decree, motivated by God’s holy spirit, his active force, did not limit the scope of the prohibition to animal blood or to the taking of blood through the mouth. The terminology was all-embracing: “Keep yourselves free . . . from blood.”
Inasmuch as the prohibition covered the drinking of animal blood, even more so did it outlaw practices such as rushing into the Roman arena to suck out the blood of the vanquished gladiators, as was done in those days. And since the prohibition is of equal force in the lives of Christians today, not only does it involve such practices as drinking the blood of freshly slaughtered animals and eating blood pudding and blood sausage, but it also makes it unlawful to appropriate the lifeblood of another human to sustain one’s own life.
MODERN-DAY EXAMPLES OF OBEDIENCE
Illustrative of the situations faced almost daily in all parts of the world by those conforming to God’s law on blood is the case of twenty-year-old Hannie in the Netherlands. Since she was eleven she has suffered from hemolytic anemia, a condition in which the spleen destroys an excessive number of red blood corpuscles, resulting in a shortage of oxygen to the body cells and causing the skin to take on a yellowish color.
When Hannie turned nineteen the attacks returned after a relaxation of a few years and increased in severity. Finally a specialist in blood diseases advised the father that the spleen should be removed. The operation, the father was told, might require blood transfusions, but the father explained that as a Christian he could not do otherwise than object to the use of blood in this way, since the Word of God forbids the feeding of blood into the body, whether by the mouth or by any other means that has been devised by science.
About half a year later Hannie fell seriously ill. Her temperature rose to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. From day to day her condition got worse. The surgeon in attendance urged a blood transfusion. But he knew the viewpoint of the parents and the girl and did not force the matter, saying: “In most cases one rescinds such a decision at the last moment.” When the patient’s condition further deteriorated the father called the specialist and urged him to do all that was possible, but without the use of blood transfusion. An hour later the ambulance rolled up in front of the house and the girl was taken to the hospital.
At the hospital the doctors asserted that if blood transfusions were not given, the girl would die at any moment, but in spite of both medical arguments and derogatory accusations designed to cause the parents’ emotions to override their convictions, they failed to shake the deep-seated faith of the family in the rightness of God’s law prohibiting the use of blood. Although the patient was desperately weak and in need of sympathetic consideration, repeated efforts were made to cause her to waver in her decision and to set aside at this crucial time her confidence in the laws of God, around which she had built her life. She relates the experience herself:
“During the night I relapsed into a deep unconsciousness, and as I was in a dying condition my parents were summoned to the hospital. All my reactions had fallen out, even to the point that artificial respiration had to be applied, as I could not breathe. Since I had not eaten or had anything to drink for several days, it was necessary to feed my body by infusion. Although the worst did not come, my condition remained serious and one was prepared for anything . . . All efforts were made to get my parents and my brother and my fiancé to change their minds. Then they advised the physician to ask me himself. . . . I could see the face of the doctor and could smell the revolting tobacco scent as he bent over me and placed the question: ‘Girl, you still have a small chance to remain alive . . . if you do not accept a transfusion you will be dead this evening. Do you want the transfusion?’ I flatly refused, not once but seven times.”
Medical science finally bowed before Christian integrity. The operation was performed, and, thanks to the body’s own God-given recuperative powers, the skill of the surgeon, the devoted care of the nurses and the strong will of the patient to live, Hannie pulled through without a blood transfusion. More important to her, she had not broken her integrity to God.
Another incident occurred a few months ago in Los Angeles, California. A young woman, a Witness, and her two young children were involved in an automobile accident that instantly snuffed out the life of her two-year-old son and left her in critical condition. On her arrival at the hospital, the giving of a blood transfusion almost immediately became an issue. Although she was only semiconscious, she made it clear that she wanted no blood, and when her husband arrived he too refused to consent to a breaking of this law of God. Reports an eyewitness: “If I hadn’t been at the hospital just about around the clock during those days and heard the language of the doctors, and observed the constant pressure they put on this young sister and her husband I don’t think that I would have believed it. They were unmerciful and unyielding in their badgering of these two poor brothers. They called the husband ‘killer,’ ‘murderer,’ ‘ignorant beast,’ and all of this loud enough to be heard throughout the whole section of the hospital. The young sister was told repeatedly that she was dying and only blood would save her. In my own mind I don’t think that they gave her the opportunity to live, for she was kept in a state of fear day and night by both doctors and nurses. Every attempt made by myself or others of the brothers to reason with these doctors met with loud emotional outbursts.” Within a few days the sister died. Would blood have saved her? That is something no doctor could guarantee. It most assuredly is not the only treatment available, nor is it without its own deadly hazards.
Newspapers everywhere have reported on cases such as these in emotion-charged terms, casting the doctor who urges blood in the role of lifesaver and the one who refuses the treatment as a fanatic. During time of war, patriots consider it an honor for a man to die for his country. But how many view it as an honor for a man to be willing to die, if necessary, for refusal to break his integrity to God? More often, they copy the example of the pagan Roman judges who sought to override Christian principles by emotional appeal.
It should not be concluded that these devoted Christians turn their backs on all medical aid and that there is no other treatment that can be administered. There are countless cases in which patients have been turned away by surgeons who refused to operate without blood, but other doctors have been located who have been willing to perform the operations, and have done so successfully—without blood. In many cases there has been considerable blood loss, but plasma volume expanders, often called “blood substitutes,” have been used, and these have made it possible to keep up the blood pressure until the body could compensate for the blood loss through its own mechanism. Often it has called for more skill and greater care to operate without the use of blood, but, more than that, it has called for a doctor who was willing to respect the religious convictions of his patient and still do everything in his power to help. There are doctors in increasing numbers throughout the world who, on coming to recognize the inherent dangers of blood transfusion and particularly on coming to appreciate the sincerity of the religious convictions of their patients who refuse blood, have been willing to treat these cases.
LACK OF KNOWLEDGE INCREASES BLOOD HAZARD
In view of the position taken by the medical profession in general in regard to blood transfusions, it is of interest to consider the medical side of the issue.
Doctors in general view blood transfusions as lifesaving. Even those who write on the abuses practiced generally emphasize that, from a medical viewpoint, much good has been done. But can it be said, even from a medical standpoint, that blood transfusions are completely safe and that only good can result from them?
Medical journals themselves score the attitude of doctors who liberally dispense blood. Said the head of the Law Department of the American Medical Association, in the June, 1960, issue of the Medicolegal Digest: “The technique of blood transfusion has become so routine that some physicians tend to disregard the inherent dangers which accompany blood and plasma transfusions. Too many physicians have the mistaken impression that a blood transfusion is as safe as an intravenous infusion of glucose or normal saline solution.”
Blood is a highly complex part of the human body and its use by doctors in transfusion has called for the greatest of care and extensive knowledge of blood itself and the reactions that can occur when it is introduced into the body of another person, if they are to avoid severe complications, even death. But have doctors all kept up with that important information? Says Paul I. Hoxworth, M.D. and Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, in the Bulletin of the American Association of Blood Banks, for March, 1960: “The increased use of blood transfusion in recent years has had the strange effect that most clinicians know less rather than more about the subject, simply because its growing complexity has thrust it into the province of specialized knowledge. The physician who orders blood for a patient cannot be expected to be well versed in all aspects of this knowledge . . . [Yet] blood transfusion is a risk which can be calculated only with knowledge of the dangers.”
Even a thorough knowledge of everything that the medical profession has learned on the subject cannot remove the hazards. Says The Medical Journal of Australia, of September 24, 1960: “The problem is really that, in spite of all the advances in blood-grouping and blood-transfusion techniques, there is no entirely satisfactory cross-matching test for all circumstances, and the dilemma of the pathologist cannot be readily solved.” In a similar vein, showing that the procedure of blood transfusion involves matters that no doctor fully understands, Britain’s highly respected medical journal, The Lancet, reports: “Troubles are cropping up which we cannot explain. In spite of all precautions some patients react unfavourably to transfusions which are correctly administered.”
TRANSFUSIONS CAUSE DEATH AND DISEASE
Emphasizing the dangers involved is a report from the Fifth International Congress of Blood Transfusion, which reported on a case as follows: “A patient who had been operated on for a simple ovarian cyst and whose recovery had been uneventful was about to be discharged from the hospital. The physician noted a slight pallor and a complete blood count revealed a low-grade, secondary anemia. He explained to the patient that she could go home that afternoon if she wished, but that it would then be necessary for him, at his office, to treat the anemia, probably for a period of 6 months. He further stated that if, however, she would stay in the hospital one additional day and receive a blood transfusion, she would most likely not need any further treatment. She chose the latter course. Laboratory examination showed that her blood was group B Rh-positive, and 500 cc. of group B Rh-positive were ordered and admittedly received, cross-matched, declared compatible and administered. By that evening the patient’s temperature was 106° F. and by the next morning she was jaundiced and had anuria. Within 24 hours she was dead.”
For those who escape death due to severe transfusion reactions, only the first hurdle has been passed. Disease may lie ahead. Syphilis, malaria, hepatitis and other diseases can be transmitted by blood. Not only can they be transmitted by blood, but they have been transmitted in this way, and even today cases are reported in which they are being transmitted by blood transfusions.c Yes, there are tests that can be performed to determine whether the blood is safe, but the tests are not infallible, nor are those who check the results. Most blood banks do not ask donors if they have syphilis because it is an embarrassing question; if the donor knew he might lie about it; even the laboratory tests do not always register the danger. As for malaria, the possibility is considered remote in most places, so little is done to check for it. Even if a check is made, it may not be caught. And in those parts of the earth where it is a very present danger so many of the donors would have to be rejected if this were taken into account that there would not be sufficient blood; so doctors often feel that the best thing is to give the blood and then treat the malaria. Concerning serum hepatitis, transmitted in regular blood and plasma transfusions, Today’s Health, October, 1960, says that it “is transmitted from donors to recipients on the average of once in every 200 transfusions of whole blood. ‘No laboratory test is known which will detect donors who are carriers of the hepatitis virus,’ says John B. Alsever, M.D., medical director of the Southwest Blood Banks, Phoenix, Arizona. ‘The donor’s history cannot be relied upon to exclude carriers, partly because of possible willful concealment or poor memory, but principally because most are innocent carriers who never have had a clinically diagnosable illness.’”
WISDOM OF OBEYING DIVINE LAW
These statements from medical journals make it clear that blood transfusions cannot be acclaimed as completely safe lifesaving treatments. Medical experience testifies to the fact that in forbidding man’s use of blood Almighty God, the Creator of man, the great Physician who understands the operation of man’s body as no human doctor ever will, was not only requiring obedience of man, but for those obeying that law he was providing preservation from the numerous ills that have come upon men as a direct result of the use of blood.
Doctors may argue that the risk is worth it if there is some chance that a life can be saved. Religious leaders may join their plea, contending that the law of God does not apply where life is involved. Both are wrong. When death impends is no time to vacillate or to turn one’s back on God. It is a time to put complete confidence in the One in whose hands lies the power of life. It is a time when all other persons, whether doctors or friends or relatives, can show their sincere love for the patient and their fear of God by encouraging the patient to hold fast his faith, not to fear, but to put his trust in God Almighty.
Faithful Christians call to mind the accusation of the Devil, who said: “Skin in behalf of skin, and everything that a man has he will give in behalf of his life.” (Job 2:4, margin) He contended that no one would maintain faith in God and obedience to His law if it put his life in jeopardy. But the Devil is a liar, and God-fearing Christians in all parts of the earth daily prove him so by obedience to the divine law on abstinence from blood. For their faithfulness God will preserve them, even if they die, by raising them to eternal life in his righteous new world.
a History of Christianity, Edward Gibbon, pp. 234, 235.
b Tertullian’s Apology.
c See Blood Transfusion and Clinical Medicine (P. L. Mollison); The Lancet, August 27, 1960; Surgery and Clinical Pathology in the Tropics (C. Bowesman); Nursing Times (England), January 17, 1958; Physiologie und Klinik der Bluttransfusion (2d Edition, 1960; published in Jena, Germany).