Britain, Blood, and Aids
EXACTLY two years ago, The Watchtower published the article “Jehovah’s Standards Help Us.” (Psalm 20:4) It gave as one example of the help available from God’s safe and sure guidelines, the protection coming to Christians who obey his law against taking in blood. At that time in the United States attention was just beginning to be focused on a new health threat—AIDS. There were suspicions that this fatal syndrome might be spread through blood transfusions. However, readers in Europe and elsewhere might then have felt that this threat from violating God’s law was limited to some distant location. As an update two years later, consider this recent information from Great Britain.
“MY SISTER needs to have an operation but is terrified of contracting AIDS. We are not Jehovah’s Witnesses, but can you please help by recommending a surgeon who would operate without the use of blood?” That was just one of the heartfelt requests received recently by Jehovah’s Witnesses at their London, England, headquarters. What lies behind these appeals?
Since its inception, the British Blood Transfusion Service has prided itself on its blood supply from voluntary donors. “A rest after the donation [of a unit of blood], a drink and biscuits, and back to work. Why not give it a try?” encourages their advertising leaflet. As a result, two million voluntary donations are made each year by 3 percent of the population.
“Blood collected from unpaid volunteers, as it is in Britain, is qualitatively superior to that collected from people who are paid for it,” claims The Guardian. In other words, the view has long been that Britain has avoided the risk of infection from blood purchased from alcoholics or others who have little else to sell. But recent events have revealed serious flaws in this picture, resulting in an unprecedented loss of public confidence. Following the death of two haemophiliacs, a spokesman for the Haemophiliac Society said that National Health Service ‘blood supplies can no longer be regarded as safe.’ What happened?
Although it has been well known for years that it is impossible to screen blood for every disease and that serious infections, such as hepatitis or malaria, can be passed by transfusion, such dangers were not widely publicized in Britain. The inference always was that donated blood gives no cause for alarm. But two shocking factors have combined, causing The Daily Telegraph to conclude: “Britain has lost the battle to prevent the Aids virus infiltrating blood supplies.”
The first shock came when press reports revealed that for many years Britain has in fact been buying blood from abroad. “Blood is being bought from people in poor countries where there is a high increase of blood-transmitted diseases,” confided a union representative at a blood-products laboratory. Furthermore, some 70 million units of concentrated Factor VIII are imported from the United States and are used to treat British haemophiliacs. Each batch of Factor VIII is made from plasma that is pooled from as many as 2,500 blood donors. It seems that by importing this blood product the AIDS virus was transferred to the British supply.
An additional shock came when AIDS was confirmed as having infected the system from homosexual donors within the British Isles. Although homosexuals have been among those asked not to donate blood because of their higher risk of having AIDS, the warning was not as strongly worded as it should have been, admitted the Department of Health. The warning in their pamphlet on AIDS referred only to “Homosexual men who have many different partners.” A current overprinting of the leaflet A.I.D.S. and how it concerns blood donors specifies that “Practising male homosexuals and bisexuals” are “particularly susceptible” to AIDS. But the warning came too late. By the beginning of 1985 more than 40 individuals, including a newborn baby, were infected. Furthermore, there is the troubling fact that the AIDS virus has an incubation period of up to two years. So how many more have already been infected? There is a “time-bomb element,” as The Sunday Times put it. Accordingly, the National Blood Transfusion Service has recently prepared an additional pamphlet for all potential blood donors in Britain, Some Reasons Why You Should Not Give Blood.
There have already been some 50 deaths from AIDS in Britain, out of over 100 reported cases. The number of people suffering from the disease is presently doubling every eight months. A medical correspondent for The Sunday Times estimated that there could be over 12,000 cases within five years. An even more startling estimate out of the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Nursing is that one million people in the British Isles could be affected by the year 1991 if no action is taken to check the spread of AIDS.
The inquirer mentioned above said: “It seems to me that you Jehovah’s Witnesses are being proved right on this matter of blood transfusion.” More accurately, of course, it is Jehovah God, through his Word, the Bible, who is being vindicated. Centuries ago he commanded Christians to ‘abstain from blood.’ (Acts 15:29; 21:25) His counsel and standards have certainly proved to be a protection for his people and will continue to be.
[Box on page 30]
What Is AIDS?
AIDS is an acronym derived from Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS itself does not kill. But, as its name implies, the victim is left with a crippled immune system. Lacking this protection, a person with the disease will usually die from an infection, such as a unique type of pneumonia or a rare form of skin cancer, Kaposi’s sarcoma. Research into detection and diagnosis is in its early stages, and there is, as yet, no known cure for AIDS.