Questions From Readers
In the light of Bible commands about the proper use of blood, how do Jehovah’s Witnesses view medical procedures using one’s own blood?
Rather than deciding solely on the basis of personal preference or some medical recommendation, each Christian ought to consider seriously what the Bible says. It is a matter between him and Jehovah.
Jehovah, to whom we owe our lives, decreed that blood should not be consumed. (Genesis 9:3, 4) In the Law for ancient Israel, God limited the use of blood because it represents life. He decreed: “The soul [or life] of the flesh is in the blood, and I myself have put it upon the altar for you to make atonement for your souls.” What if a man killed an animal for food? God said: “He must in that case pour its blood out and cover it with dust.”* (Leviticus 17:11, 13) Jehovah repeated this command again and again. (Deuteronomy 12:16, 24; 15:23) The Jewish Soncino Chumash notes: “The blood must not be stored but rendered unfit for consumption by pouring it on the ground.” No Israelite was to appropriate, store, and use the blood of another creature, whose life belonged to God.
The obligation to keep the Mosaic Law ended when the Messiah died. Yet, God’s view of the sacredness of blood remains. Moved by God’s holy spirit, the apostles directed Christians to ‘abstain from blood.’ That command was not to be taken lightly. It was as important morally as abstaining from sexual immorality or idolatry. (Acts 15:28, 29; 21:25) When donating and transfusing blood became common in the 20th century, Jehovah’s Witnesses understood that this practice conflicted with God’s Word.*
Occasionally, a doctor will urge a patient to deposit his own blood weeks before surgery (preoperative autologous blood donation, or PAD) so that if the need arises, he could transfuse the patient with his own stored blood. However, such collecting, storing, and transfusing of blood directly contradicts what is said in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Blood is not to be stored; it is to be poured out
Other procedures or tests involving an individual’s own blood are not so clearly in conflict with God’s stated principles. For instance, many Christians have allowed some of their blood to be withdrawn for testing or analysis, after which the sample is discarded. Other more complex procedures involving one’s blood may also be recommended.
For example, during certain surgical procedures, some blood may be diverted from the body in a process called hemodilution. The blood remaining in the patient is diluted. Later, his blood in the external circuit is directed back into him, thus bringing his blood count closer to normal. Similarly, blood that flows into a wound may be captured and filtered so that the red cells can be returned to the patient; this is called cell salvage. In a different process, blood may be directed to a machine that temporarily carries on a function normally handled by body organs (for example, the heart, lungs, or kidneys). The blood from the machine is then returned to the patient. In other procedures, blood is diverted to a separator (centrifuge) so that damaging or defective portions of it can be eliminated. Or the goal may be to isolate some of a blood component and apply that elsewhere on the body. There are also tests in which a quantity of blood is withdrawn in order to tag it or to mix it with medicine, whereupon it is put back into the patient.
The details may vary, and new procedures, treatments, and tests will certainly be developed. It is not our place to analyze each variation and render a decision. A Christian must decide for himself how his own blood will be handled in the course of a surgical procedure, medical test, or current therapy. Ahead of time, he should obtain from the doctor or technician the facts about what might be done with his blood during the procedure. Then he must decide according to what his conscience permits. (See box.)
Christians should bear in mind their dedication to God and obligation ‘to love him with their whole heart, whole soul, whole strength, and whole mind.’ (Luke 10:27) Unlike most in the world, Jehovah’s Witnesses highly treasure their good relationship with God. The Life-Giver urges all to trust in Jesus’ shed blood. We read: “By means of him [Jesus Christ] we have the release by ransom through the blood of that one, yes, the forgiveness of our trespasses.”
Professor Frank H. Gorman writes: “The pouring out of the blood is best understood as an act of reverence that demonstrates respect for the life of the animal and, thus, respect for God, who created and continues to care for that life.”
The Watchtower of July 1, 1951, answered key questions about this subject, showing why transfusions of donated blood are not appropriate.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
If some of my blood will be diverted outside my body and the flow might even be interrupted for a time, will my conscience allow me to view this blood as still part of me, thus not requiring that it be ‘poured out on the ground’?
Would my Bible-trained conscience be troubled if during a diagnostic or therapeutic procedure some of my own blood was withdrawn, modified, and directed back into (or onto) my body?