Saving Life With Blood—How?
“Choose life . . . by listening to [God’s] voice . . . , for he is your life and the length of your days.”—DEUTERONOMY 30:19, 20.
1. How are true Christians unique in their respect for life?
MANY people say that they respect life, giving as evidence their view of capital punishment, abortion, or hunting. However, there is a special way in which true Christians show respect for life. Psalm 36:9 says: “With you [God] is the source of life.” Life being a gift from God, Christians adopt his view of lifeblood.
2 Our life depends on blood, which carries oxygen throughout our body, removes carbon dioxide, lets us adapt to changes in temperature, and helps us to fight diseases. The One who provided our life also designed and provided the marvelous, life-sustaining liquid tissue called blood. This reflects his ongoing interest in preserving human life.—Genesis 45:5; Deuteronomy 28:66; 30:15, 16.
3 Both Christians and people in general should ask themselves: ‘Can blood save my life only by its natural functions, or might blood save life in a more profound way?’ While most people recognize the link between life and the normal functions of blood, there is actually much more involved. The ethics of Christians, Muslims, and Jews all focus on a Life-Giver who expressed himself about life and about blood. Yes, our Creator has much to say about blood.
God’s Firm Stand on Blood
4. Early in human history, what did God say about blood?
4 Blood is mentioned more than 400 times in God’s Word, the Bible. Among the earliest is Jehovah’s decree: “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. . . . But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.” He added: “For your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting.” (Genesis 9:3-5, New International Version) Jehovah said that to Noah, progenitor of the human family. Hence, all humanity was put on notice that the Creator views blood as standing for life. Everyone who claims to recognize God as Life-Giver ought thus to recognize that He takes a firm position about using lifeblood.
5. What was the overriding reason why the Israelites would not take in blood?
5 God again mentioned blood when giving Israel its Law code. Leviticus 17:10, 11, according to the Jewish Tanakh version, reads: “If anyone of the house of Israel or of the strangers who reside among them partakes of any blood, I will set My face against the person who partakes of the blood, and I will cut him off from among his kin. For the life of the flesh is in the blood.” That law could have health benefits, but much more was involved. By treating blood as special, the Israelites were to show their dependence on God for life. (Deuteronomy 30:19, 20) Yes, the central reason why they were to avoid taking in blood was, not that it could be unhealthy, but that blood had special meaning to God.
6. Why can we be sure that Jesus upheld God’s stand on blood?
6 Where does Christianity stand on saving human life with blood? Jesus knew what his Father said about using blood. Jesus “did no wrong, [and] no treachery was found on his lips.” That means he kept the Law perfectly, including the law about blood. (1 Peter 2:22, Knox) He thus set a pattern for his followers, including a pattern of respect for life and blood.
7, 8. How did it become plain that God’s law on blood applies to Christians?
7 History shows us what happened later when a council of the Christian governing body decided whether Christians had to keep all of Israel’s laws. Under divine guidance, they said that Christians are not obliged to keep the Mosaic code but that it is “necessary” to “keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled [unbled meat] and from fornication.” (Acts 15:22-29) They thus made it clear that avoiding blood is as morally important as avoiding idolatry and gross immorality.*
8 The early Christians upheld that divine prohibition. Commenting thereon, British scholar Joseph Benson said: “This prohibition of eating blood, given to Noah and all his posterity, and repeated to the Israelites . . . has never been revoked, but, on the contrary, has been confirmed under the New Testament, Acts xv.; and thereby made of perpetual obligation.” Yet, would what the Bible says about blood rule out modern medical uses, such as transfusions, which clearly were not used in Noah’s day or in the apostles’ time?
Blood in or as Medicine
9. How was blood used medicinally in ancient times, in contrast with what Christian position?
9 Medicinal use of blood is by no means modern. The book Flesh and Blood, by Reay Tannahill, points out that for almost 2,000 years, in Egypt and elsewhere, “blood was regarded as the sovereign remedy for leprosy.” Romans believed that epilepsy could be cured by taking in human blood. Tertullian wrote about this “medical” use of blood: “Consider those who with greedy thirst, at a show in the arena, take the fresh blood of wicked criminals . . . and carry it off to heal their epilepsy.” This was in stark contrast with what Christians did: “We do not even have the blood of animals at our meals . . . At the trials of Christians you offer them sausages filled with blood. You are convinced, of course, that [it] is unlawful for them.” Consider the implication: Rather than take in blood, which represented life, early Christians were willing to risk death.—Compare 2 Samuel 23:15-17.
10, 11. Why can it be held that God’s standard on blood rules out accepting transfused blood?
10 Of course, back then blood was not being transfused, for experiments with transfusions began only near the 16th century. Yet, in the 17th century, a professor of anatomy at the University of Copenhagen objected: ‘Those who drag in the use of human blood for internal remedies of diseases appear to misuse it and to sin gravely. Cannibals are condemned. Why do we not abhor those who stain their gullet with human blood? Similar is the receiving of alien blood from a cut vein, either through the mouth or by instruments of transfusion. The authors of this operation are held in terror by the divine law.’
11 Yes, even in centuries past, people saw that God’s law ruled out both the taking of blood into the veins and the taking of it through the mouth. Realizing this may help people today to understand the position that Jehovah’s Witnesses take, one that accords with God’s stand. While highly valuing life and appreciating medical care, true Christians respect life as a gift from the Creator, so they do not try to sustain life by taking in blood.—1 Samuel 25:29.
12. Thinking people may reasonably consider what about blood transfusions?
12 For years experts have claimed that blood saves lives. Doctors may relate that someone with acute blood loss was transfused and got better. So people may wonder, ‘How medically wise or unwise is the Christian stand?’ Before considering any serious medical procedure, a thinking person will determine both the possible benefits and the potential risks. What about blood transfusions? The reality is that blood transfusions are fraught with many risks. They can even be fatal.
13, 14. (a) What are some ways in which blood transfusions have proved to be risky? (b) How did the pope’s experience illustrate the health risks of blood?
13 Recently, Drs. L. T. Goodnough and J. M. Shuck noted: “The medical community has long been aware that while the blood supply is as safe as we know how to make it, blood transfusion has always carried a risk. The most frequent complication of blood transfusion continues to be non-A, non-B hepatitis (NANBH); other potential complications include hepatitis B, alloimmunization, transfusion reaction, immunologic suppression, and iron overload.” Estimating ‘conservatively’ just one of those serious dangers, the report added: “It is anticipated that approximately 40,000 people [in the United States alone] will develop NANBH yearly and that up to 10% of these will develop cirrhosis and/or hepatoma [liver cancer].”—The American Journal of Surgery, June 1990.
14 As the risk of contracting disease from transfused blood has become more widely known, people are reconsidering their view of transfusions. For example, after the pope was shot in 1981, he was treated at a hospital and released. Later he had to go back for two months, and his condition was so grave that it seemed he might have to retire as an invalid. Why? He got a cytomegalovirus infection from blood given him. Some may wonder, ‘If blood given even to the pope is unsafe, what about transfusions given to us average people?’
15, 16. Why are blood transfusions not safe even if the blood has been screened for diseases?
15 ‘But can’t they screen blood for diseases?’ someone might ask. Well, consider as an example screening for hepatitis B. Patient Care (February 28, 1990) pointed out: “The incidence of posttransfusion hepatitis declined following the universal screening of blood for [it], but 5-10% of posttransfusion hepatitis cases are still caused by hepatitis B.”
16 The fallibility of such testing is also seen with another blood-borne risk—AIDS. The AIDS pandemic has, with a vengeance, awakened people to the danger of infected blood. Granted, there are now tests to screen blood for evidence of the virus. However, blood is not screened in all places, and it seems that people may carry the AIDS virus in their blood for years without its being detectable by current tests. So patients can get AIDS—have got AIDS—from blood that was screened and passed!
17. How may blood transfusions do damage that may not be immediately evident?
17 Drs. Goodnough and Shuck also mentioned “immunologic suppression.” Yes, evidence mounts that even properly cross-matched blood can damage a patient’s immune system, opening the door to cancer and death. Thus, a Canadian study of “patients with head and neck cancer showed that those who received a blood transfusion during removal of [a] tumor experienced a significant decrease in immune status afterwards.” (The Medical Post, July 10, 1990) Doctors at the University of Southern California had reported: “The recurrence rate for all cancers of the larynx was 14% for those who did not receive blood and 65% for those who did. For cancer of the oral cavity, pharynx, and nose or sinus, the recurrence rate was 31% without transfusions and 71% with transfusions.” (Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology, March 1989) Suppressed immunity seems also to underlie the fact that those given blood during surgery are more likely to develop infections.—See box, page 10.
Any Alternatives to Blood?
18. (a) The risks involved in blood transfusions are turning physicians to what? (b) What information about alternatives might you share with your physician?
18 Some might feel, ‘Transfusions are hazardous, but are there any alternatives?’ We certainly want effective medical care of high quality, so are there legitimate and effective ways to manage serious medical problems without using blood? Happily, yes. The New England Journal of Medicine (June 7, 1990) reported: “Physicians, increasingly aware of the risks of [AIDS] and other infections transmitted by transfusion, are reconsidering the risks and benefits of transfusions and are turning to alternatives, including that of avoiding transfusions altogether.”*
19. Why can you be confident that you can refuse blood and still be treated medically with success?
19 Jehovah’s Witnesses have long refused blood transfusions, not primarily because of the health dangers, but because of obedience to God’s law on blood. (Acts 15:28, 29) Yet, skilled doctors have successfully cared for Witness patients without using blood, with its attendant risks. As just one among many examples reported in medical literature, Archives of Surgery (November 1990) discussed heart transplantation on Witness patients whose consciences permitted such a procedure without the administering of blood. The report said: “More than 25 years of experience performing heart surgery on Jehovah’s Witnesses has culminated in successful cardiac transplantation without administering blood products . . . No perioperative deaths occurred, and early follow-up studies have shown that these patients have not been more susceptible to higher graft rejection rates.”
The Most Valuable Blood
20, 21. Why should Christians be cautious that they do not develop the attitude “Blood is bad medicine”?
20 There is, however, a soul-searching question that each of us needs to ask himself. ‘If I have decided not to accept blood transfusions, why? Honestly, what is my primary, fundamental reason?’
21 We have mentioned that there are effective alternatives to blood that do not expose one to many of the dangers linked to transfusions. Dangers such as hepatitis or AIDS have even moved many to refuse blood for nonreligious reasons. Some are quite vocal about this, almost as if they were marching under a banner, “Blood Is Bad Medicine.” It is possible that a Christian might be drawn into that march. But it is a march on a dead-end road. How so?
22. What realistic view of life and death must we take? (Ecclesiastes 7:2)
22 True Christians realize that even with the best of medical care in the finest of hospitals, at some point people die. With or without blood transfusions, people die. To say that is not being fatalistic. It is being realistic. Death is a fact of life today. People who disregard God’s law on blood often experience immediate or delayed harm from the blood. Some even die from the transfused blood. Still, as all of us must realize, those who survive the transfusions have not gained everlasting life, so blood does not prove to have saved their lives permanently. On the other hand, most who refuse blood, for religious and/or medical reasons, yet accept alternative therapy do very well medically. They may thus extend their life for many years—but not endlessly.
23. How do God’s laws on blood relate to our being sinful and in need of a ransom?
23 That all humans alive today are imperfect and are gradually dying leads us to the central point of what the Bible says about blood. God told all mankind not to eat blood. Why? Because it represents life. (Genesis 9:3-6) In the Law code, he set out laws addressing the fact that all humans are sinful. God told the Israelites that by offering animal sacrifices, they could show that their sins needed to be covered. (Leviticus 4:4-7, 13-18, 22-30) Though that is not what he asks of us today, it has import now. God purposed to provide a sacrifice that could fully atone for the sins of all believers—the ransom. (Matthew 20:28) This is why we need to have God’s view of blood.
24. (a) Why would it be a mistake to treat health risks as the central point regarding blood? (b) What really should underlie our view of using blood?
24 It would be a mistake to concentrate principally on the health risks of blood, for that was not God’s focus. The Israelites may have gained some health benefits by not taking in blood, just as they may have benefited by not eating the flesh of pigs or of scavenger animals. (Deuteronomy 12:15, 16; 14:7, 8, 11, 12) Remember, though, that when God granted Noah the right to eat meat, he did not forbid the eating of the flesh of such animals. But he did decree that humans must not eat blood. God was not focusing mainly on possible health risks. That was not the vital point to his decree on blood. His worshipers were to refuse to sustain their lives with blood, not primarily because doing so was unhealthy, but because it was unholy. They refused blood, not because it was polluted, but because it was precious. Only by sacrificial blood could they obtain forgiveness.
25. How can blood lastingly save life?
25 The same is true with us. At Ephesians 1:7, the apostle Paul explained: “By means of him [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.” If God forgives the sins of someone and views that one as righteous, the person has the prospect of endless life. So Jesus’ ransom blood is able to save life—lastingly, in fact, everlastingly.
The decree ended: “If you carefully keep yourselves from these things, you will prosper. Good health to you!” (Acts 15:29) The comment “Good health to you” was not a promise to the effect, ‘If you abstain from blood or fornication, you will have better health.’ It was simply a closure to the letter, such as, ‘Farewell.’
Many effective alternatives to blood transfusion are reviewed in the brochure How Can Blood Save Your Life?, published in 1990 by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
Can You Explain?
◻ What is the primary reason why Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusions?
◻ What evidence confirms that the Biblical position on blood is not medically unreasonable?
◻ How is the ransom tied in with the Bible’s law on blood?
◻ What is the only way in which blood can permanently save lives?
[Box on page 10]
TRANSFUSION AND INFECTION
After a broad review of whether blood transfusions may make a patient more susceptible to infection, Dr. Neil Blumberg concluded: “Of 12 clinical studies [of the matter], 10 found that transfusion was significantly and independently associated with an increased risk of bacterial infection . . . Additionally, transfusion at some distant time prior to surgery may affect patient resistance to infection if the immunologic effects of transfusion are as long-lived as some studies suggest . . . If these data can be extended and confirmed, it appears that acute postoperative infections could be the single most common significant complication associated with homologous transfusion.”—Transfusion Medicine Reviews, October 1990.
[Picture on page 8]
Magnified red blood cells. “Each microliter (0.00003 ounce) of blood contains from 4 million to 6 million red blood cells.”—“The World Book Encyclopedia”