Questions From Readers
● Is it proper for a Christian to accept medical treatment involving a serum prepared from blood?—Germany.
The Bible is plain as to God’s high regard for blood, showing that He views it as representing the soul or life. (Lev. 17:11, 12, 14) Understandably, then, the divine command given to our common ancestor Noah stated: “Only flesh with its soul—its blood—you must not eat.” (Gen. 9:4) Noah and his descendants, including all of us, were not to sustain their lives by using blood as food. And this important outlook was even repeated, showing its application to true worshipers today, for Christians were told: “Keep abstaining . . . from blood and from things strangled.” (Acts 15:29) For this reason we cannot endorse the many modern medical practices employing blood. And we have repeatedly shown that accepting a blood transfusion would unquestionably be contrary to the Bible’s prohibition on the using or eating of blood to sustain one’s life.
Some Christians, though, have been urged on occasion to accept a serum injection prepared from a small quantity of a blood fraction. In order to evaluate this matter, it is helpful to understand just what serums are and why they are used. It is also helpful to understand how serums differ from vaccines.
In the normal course of life humans come in contact with viruses or bacteria that cause disease. For instance, a person may at one time or another be exposed to mumps, measles or tuberculosis. To fight against the assault or attack by viruses or bacteria, the body produces substances called antibodies that attempt to neutralize or reduce the harm done by these invading germs. A person who has these antibodies in his blood for a particular disease is temporarily or permanently safe from contracting this disease.
To provide advance protection, scientists have developed vaccines (toxoids) or inoculations that stimulate a person’s body to produce antibodies against certain diseases. Smallpox, polio, tetanus, cholera, rabies, typhoid fever and yellow fever are some of the diseases for which vaccines or inoculations have been prepared. These vaccines, designed to make one immune to such diseases, are not produced from blood. (For details, see Awake! of August 22, 1965, pages 18 and 19.) Often vaccinations or inoculations, which are not made from blood, are required when children enter school or when tourists or missionaries travel to foreign countries. The objective is to stimulate the producing of antibodies in advance to prevent a person from contracting a certain disease should he be exposed to it.
But what if a person has recently been exposed to a disease or has definitely contracted diphtheria, tetanus, viral hepatitis, rabies or some other disease? Before his body has time to produce the needed antibodies, he might become seriously ill. So doctors have devised a way of providing immediately the antibodies that would help one to resist the disease’s assault. Serums or antitoxins are used. These are obtained from the blood of humans or animals that have already developed the antibodies for fighting the disease. Usually the blood is processed and the blood fraction (gamma globulin) containing the antibodies is separated and made into a serum. When this is injected into the patient it gives him temporary passive immunity.* This is temporary, for the antibodies do not become a permanent part of his blood; when these pass out of his body he is no longer immune to the disease. It can thus be seen that serums (unlike vaccines) contain a blood fraction, though minute.
As initially stated, out of full respect for what the Bible says about blood, we refrain from endorsing any use of it outside the body of the animal or human to whom it naturally belongs. We believe that the use of blood as a transfusion, or the use of a blood component to accomplish a similar purpose, is obviously in conflict with the Scriptural command to “abstain . . . from blood.” (Acts 15:20) What, then, of the use of a serum containing only a minute fraction of blood and employed to supply an auxiliary defense against some infection and not employed to perform the life-sustaining function that blood normally carries out?
We believe that here the conscience of each Christian must decide. Some may feel that accepting such a serum does not constitute an act of disrespect for the sacredness of life and of God as the life Source, that it does not constitute a flouting of God’s expressed will concerning the use of blood to feed the body. On the other hand, the conscience of others may call on them to reject all such serums. Each must answer to God as his or her judge with regard to the reason for one’s conscientious decision.—1 Cor. 4:4; 2 Cor. 5:10.*
We trust that this review of Bible principles will be helpful and aid in viewing the initial question and related questions in a considerate way. While refraining from approving or condemning in such areas where we believe the decision must be left to individual conscience, we do, nevertheless, urge all to seek to maintain their conscience clean before God, never showing deliberate disrespect for his Word.—1 Pet. 3:16; 1 Tim. 1:19.
Similar serums are used to treat a person bitten by a poisonous snake or a black widow spider. Also, in cases where there is an Rh incompatibility between a mother and her newborn child, doctors may urge her to accept a specialized serum injection. If the mother has not yet become sensitized to the child’s blood type, the serum (made from the blood of a woman who has already produced the antibodies) might be administered so her system does not produce antibodies that might adversely affect a future child.