Are Jehovah’s Witnesses Finally Coming to Their Senses About Blood Transfusions?

Most religious beliefs aren’t matters of life and death. You might waste your time praying to a god. You might have to eat a tasteless communion wafer sometimes. Even accepting Creationism just prevents you from understanding the beauty of science. But that’s usually the worst of it.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, hold a belief that makes no sense and has led to multiple deaths: They refuse to undergo blood transfusions even if it means saving their own lives, a belief that stems from irresponsible interpretations of the Bible. It’s especially disgusting when the children of JW parents are the ones who are suffering and their parents would rather see their kids die than have the life-saving procedure done.

In some cases, even when JWs have said no to the transfusions, doctors have ignored their wishes in order to save a life. Unless the patient is an adult JW saying “I don’t want a blood transfusion,” it’s exactly what the doctors should be doing. Children don’t deserve to die because their parents are deluded by religion.

What boggles my mind is that JWs still hold this ridiculous belief despite all the unnecessary deaths that have occurred as a result of it.

That’s why I’m feeling a bit of relief at this article in the National Post that suggests JWs are trying to avoid “messy legal confrontations” by just letting the transfusions happen:

As institutions show more respect toward parents’ faith and try harder not to use blood, Witnesses often seem eager to avoid involving child-welfare authorities to facilitate transfusions, and more accepting that Canadian case law is firmly on the doctors’ side, some hospital officials say.

“They get it that we’re going to transfuse where it’s medically necessary. They’ve lost that battle; they understand that,” said Andrea Frolic, a bioethicist at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ont. “But it’s kind of an affront to their community to involve child-welfare services where there aren’t concerns about neglect, there aren’t concerns about abuse. … Part of the thing was ‘Just go on and do it. Why do we need to involve CAS [Children’s Aid Services]? It makes us feel like bad parents.’”

Witnesses are essentially doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. They’re willing to accept the transfusions, but only because they don’t want to deal with judges who will inevitably rule against them, anyway.

What’s even more interesting is that some JWs are now willing to get a transfusion for themselves or their family members, but their biggest worry isn’t that they’re violating some religious belief. It’s that other JWs will find out about it:

evidence suggests that the number of cases that end up before a judge has dropped significantly. The Canlii website, which catalogues many Canadian court decisions, includes nine separate child blood-transfusion rulings from 2000 to 2007, but just three in the five years since then.

All the ethicists stress, as well, that some Jehovah’s Witnesses do not agree with the blood ban, but are anxious that their green light to transfusion be kept confidential.

“Some families are really more concerned about other Jehovah’s Witnesses finding out they consented to the blood transfusion,” said Ms. Seller.

Peer pressure: The most powerful tool at religion’s disposal.

Still, good news overall. If the Jehovah’s Witnesses can soften their stance, it might not be long before Christian Scientists stop the faith-healing nonsense and start seeing doctors in medical emergencies. We can dream, right?

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    So they won’t “feel like bad parents” if they let their child die without receiving a blood transfusion. But they would “feel like bad parents” if the child welfare Authority got involved.

    There’s religion for you!

  • Greg Gay

    I wonder how many other religious views are followed because of peer pressure. Nobody wants to be seen to be the last person to say “Amen” when the preacher denounces gay marriage, for example.

  • popeyoni

    A friend of mine is a pediatrician, and he says many JW’s want it to go to the judge so the decision will be “off their hands”.

  • Neil Rickert

    “Some families are really more concerned about other Jehovah’s Witnesses finding out they consented to the blood transfusion,” said Ms. Seller.

    It is group psychology, including peer pressure, that makes religion possible.

  • nazani

    This just doesn’t make any sense. Every time they have any sort of meat in any form they’re eating blood.

  • jdm8

    It’s pretty sad their officially accepted interpretation is such that a blood transfusion constitutes eating blood.

  • Russ Painter

    This is NOT a softening of their stance. This is only about avoiding legal costs and embarrassment when they lose these cases. I seriously doubt this is as big a deal as you think. They have different levels of stubbornness on this issue depending on the country they’re in and how much they can get away with.
    The REAL issue is that the members that agree to get these transfusions on their own will STILL be ordered by their elders to be shunned by the other members of the church. This is a huge deal in a community (cult) where you’re not supposed to have friendly association with non-members (worldly people), having everyone you know stop talking to you all at once is quite traumatic and leads to a lot of suicides.

  • Baby_Raptor

    ‘Just go on and do it. Why do we need to involve CAS [Children’s Aid Services]? It makes us feel like bad parents.’

    When you’re potentially killing a Fucking child because you twisted some obscure verse in a Bronze Age mythology book, you need to feel like a bad parent. You are one. Die for your own beliefs, nobody is denying you that right. But don’t force children to.

  • C Peterson

    Most religious beliefs aren’t matters of life and death. You might waste your time praying to a god. You might have to eat a tasteless communion wafer sometimes. Even accepting Creationism just prevents you from understanding the beauty of science. But that’s usually the worst of it.

    I couldn’t disagree more.

    The death of the occasional JW, even of the innocent child of a JW, is completely trivial in comparison to the widespread, deadly damage done to millions of people because of religious beliefs.

    Religious beliefs are all too often matters of life and death. They are instrumental in forming the world views that lead to oppression, to disease, and to environmental destruction. This much more significant harm should not be minimized simply because a few obvious wingnuts refuse blood.

  • Rachel

    I remember going through a lot of similar mental gymnastics (although not as potentially life-threatening) back when I was trying to be a good Mormon girl.

    The problem with highly restrictive religions is that they force you to choose between belief and common sense.

  • ReadsInTrees

    I donate blood every two months. I’m O negative, so I know that some of my blood goes to help newborn babies. It makes me sad to think of babies dying because their lunatic parents don’t want their child to have my life-saving blood.

  • Jansen Waddell

    This was EXACTLY the point I was going to make. Their reasoning is priceless.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I’m O negative as well. Apparently our blood is highly sough after, because there aren’t that many of us.

  • ReadsInTrees

    O negative is the blood they want the most, not because it’s the most rare, but because it can be given to anyone, regardless of blood type. That’s why O negative is called the “universal donor”. This blood is vital in an imminent emergency where they may not have time to test someone’s blood type before giving them a blood transfusion. Because it’s sort of a “neutral” blood type, it’s safest to give to babies.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Another O negative, and frequent donor. We can’t be that rare.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Wikipedia has a decent article on blood types. Occurence of O negative varies from country to country, but is always < 10%.

  • Matt Eggler

    A hearty hello and well met to my fellow O negative blood donating brothers!

  • Marco Conti

    Until now I wasn’t aware of the exact passage JW used to justify their silly stance on blood transfusion.

    The passage clearly states:”you may not eat the blood of any sort of flesh”.

    Eating is something you do with your mouth and the result is that what you eat ends up in your stomach passing through the esophagus. Blood transfusion do not use the mouth so it can hardly be called “eating”.

    Furthermore, I suspect that in those climates, eating the blood of animals is not the best policy if you want to avoid nasty illnesses. Of course, they think Jesus is displeased if you do, but even he would have to admit that getting a transfusion is not “eating”

  • gg

    At least in CA, children are not allowed to die for want of a blood transfusion. We just call a Judge set up for those occurrences and get a court order over the phone. We try not to transfuse, but in dire emergencies, we ask the parents to comply, or get a court order. On the other hand, if it is an adult, our hands are tied. I once helplessly watched an 18 year old who had just given birth, and was having uncontrollable bleeding as a complication, die refusing a blood transfusion, even after being told what the consequence would be.

  • Jay

    That trivial life you are referring to is the portion of my family who converted. Including my. 3yro nephew. I dont think he is just “trivial” at all. I would love to know if he needed life saving measures his parents would provide. Sadly they wouldn’t.

  • C Peterson

    Sorry for your loss, but I used the term comparatively, not absolutely.

    Every JW on Earth could die and the damage would be trivial compared to the wider damage that the major religions continue to inflict on humanity. That’s not the same as saying any of those people, or their lives, are trivial.

  • Candee Bell

    It isn’t about coming to their senses it is about losing followers. If you don’t have followers then you have no religion. There isn’t anything sensible about being a JW. I grew up as a JW but don’t worry totally recovered.

  • Silo Mowbray

    Rare enough that hospitals wish there were more of you. I’m an O too, but RH positive, which means my blood can be used by anyone who has RH positive blood, be they O, A, B or AB. But definitely not as useful as O-.

  • roberthughmclean

    There’s a misnomer: “Christian Science”. What on earth do they study? Ghosts and magic tricks? The baby jesus? (that’d take all of 5 minutes), turning wine into blood (oops, that’s that other mob) The lunch break must run from 10:00am ’till 4:30pm. the rest of the time is used “studying”.

  • Danny Haszard

    Jehovah’s Witnesses *blood transfusion confusion*.

    In 2013 God’s will and scripture has little to do with the Jehovah’s Witnesses position on use of blood products.
    The JW leadership is foremost concerned what will play out in a secular court of law as to the parent Watchtower being held liable for wrongful deaths.
    Most Jehovah’s Witnesses rushed to the ER with massive blood loss will cry NO BLOOD right up to their last breath.
    The shocker is they can now have most of the blood components that will pull them through,but they are so indoctrinated that blood is forbidden that they can’t comprehend the loopholes.
    The Watchtower has drilled and grilled us that our stand on blood is NON NEGOTIABLE.
    The loopholes that allow blood usage is to save the Watchtower corporation money from blood death liability suits.
    This is a truly evil organization that would sacrifice tens of thousands of men,women,children for the almighty dollar.
    The blood products ban has been in force since 1945 the buzz today about it being a *personal conscience matter* and the hope of new medical advances like artificial blood don’t undo all those who have past perished.
    The New York city based Watchtower sect is concerned foremost with liability lawsuits for wrongful death.They know that if they repeal the ban on *whole* blood transfusion,that it will open the door for legal examination of all the thousands who have died since 1945.
    Cults do get people killed!
    50-100 times as many men,women,children have been killed by the Watchtower society ban on *whole* blood transfusions than at Jonestown kool-aid mass murders.
    *tell the truth don’t be afraid*

    Danny Haszard

  • Danny Haszard

    Transfusion confusion.
    Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine allows a liver transplant but not the blood that is in it.
    Jehovahs Witnesses DO take blood products now in 2012.
    They take all fractions of blood.This includes hemoglobin, albumin, clotting factors, cryosupernatant and cryo-poor too, and many, many, others.
    If one adds up all the blood fractions the JWs takes, it equals a whole unit of blood. Any, many of these fractions are made from thousands upon thousands of units of donated blood.
    Jehovah’s Witnesses now accept every fraction of blood except the membrane of the red blood cell. JWs now accept blood transfusions.
    The fact that the JW blood issue is so unclear is downright dangerous in the emergency room.
    More than 50,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses dead from Watchtowers deadly arbitrary blood ban,some estimates run as high as 100,000 dead

    Danny Haszard

  • Lisa Ann Homic

    What they don’t understand is that Jesus gave us his body and blood as the New Covenant. Jesus commanded us to “do this in memory of me.” So the JW lost sight of this when they formed in 1870 or probably sooner as Protestants decided to go it alone. Acts 15:28-29 does not contradict Jesus words. I pray they truly embrace the body and blood of Jesus.

  • ReadsInTrees

    And sister!

  • Brinjen

    They don’t want others to find out if a transfusion was given because they are worried about disfellowshipping. Which is their form of ex-communication. It includes being shunned by any family member or friend who is a Witness. It is also seen as certain death should armageddon happen whilst you are disfellowshipped.

    In short… emotional blackmail.

  • SeantheSheep

    Rather than simply repeat the same thoughtless comments people have been making for the last 70 years, or worst those of Danny Haszard, who picks numbers and “facts” at random, why not inform yourself about the developments that have taken place. This PBS video explains why there are over 100 hospital in the world with no-blood wings and even no-blood hospitals, 52 in the U.S. alone. The evidence speaks for itself.

  • SeantheSheep

    Jehovah’s Witnesses have not compromised at all, as the article seems to imply. The doctors have decided to finally listen over the 20 or 30 years, and the progress you see is evidence of their cooperation. We do not stop at surgery though. Respect for life also includes not smoking, no illicit drugs, moderate consumption of alcohol (as with food), refusing sex outside marriage and not participating in high-risk sports. These practices also make us healthier than the average person and minimize the risk that they will need health care. Faithfulness to God involves accepting all his standards; we don’t just apply part of the prescription.

  • SeantheSheep

    Would you please get up to date on the subject! Jehovah’s Witnesses DO NOT REFUSE TRANSFUSIONS. We only refuse BLOOD transfusions, on scriptural grounds. There are many medications we can accept intravenously, that are not made from blood components. Most of you don’t get it. That’s fine. You also don’t agree with God’s other standards (since this an Atheist site), so you’ll never see the benefits of those either. If you want to criticize, feel free to do so in a constructive, helpful way and set aside the vulgarity and emotional responses, that suggest that you didn’t even read the article re-posted here, complete with it’s outdated Medical Directive (10+ years old – that’s typical of reporting on the subject). The newspapers (and for the same reasons most blogs) are not interested in informing you; they are using sensationalism to attract readers. So if they raise an emotional subject, interviewing only opposers that claim compromise, at the expense of a group that most consider “unpopular” anyway, how can they lose? Thankfully, the medical community has higher standards; and so do we. But I’m afraid those who cling blood transfusion as their preferred medical treatment will have to accept the higher risk and will have to sign a waiver at the hospital absolving them of all liability, should the use of blood create any complications.

  • LearnedPaw

    What are you talking about? All of the comments here are related to JWs refusing blood transfusions, not other treatment. You have to admit it’s bizarre that you won’t take whole blood but you will take all of the little parts of the blood that together are comprised of blood. You are also making an argument that has no basis in fact when you talk about those who “cling blood transfusion as their preferred medical treatment.” No one goes in and demands a blood transfusion; they let the doctors decide what is necessary like a rational patient. You have to sign a waiver accepting the normal risks of ANY medical treatment you get. You are irresponsible to suggest that it is somehow more dangerous, or a “higher risk” to accept blood when it is necessary than to refuse blood in the face of death. What evidence do you have of this? Your chances of dying are obviously exponentially higher if you flat out refuse blood when it is necessary. What is more, your average JW is more concerned with their friends and clergy finding out than actually “following the Bible” when it’s their life on the line. I took a graduate level bioethics classes with a national expert in the field and he commented that he has been in MANY hospital rooms with JWs who steadfastly refuse blood when their family and elders are in the room, and then when everyone leaves and it is just the dying JW, they will quietly say to give them the blood and don’t tell anyone.

  • PhiloKGB

    Can a no-blood hospital handle trauma cases with severe blood loss? My impression is that, while there are certain controllable procedures which can be performed bloodlessly, more serious cases are referred to transfusion-capable facilities.

  • LearnedPaw

    After doing some more research, I see that Jehovah’s Witnesses also banned organ transplants until 1980:'s_Witnesses_believe_about_organ_transplantation

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but this doctrine must also have been based upon the idea that the medical procedure was “contrary to God’s will” or “against the Bible’s teachings.” Now that they changed their policy, what did any JWs who needed an organ transplant and died before 1980 die for? What would you tell their families who saw their loved one’s life cut short by 30, 40, or 50 years? Was it really for God, or was it to please a bunch of men who run a church? How do you know they won’t change the blood policy too? The fact that they changed their minds about organ transplants shows that your leaders are not infallible. Are you really willing to die because your church says blood transfusions are wrong, only to have them change their policy in 10 or 20 years after they pray about it some more?

    PS – Call me a skeptic, but I would be shocked if there was some credible evidence that Jehovah’s Witnesses are actually healthier than everyone else. Not every person outside of your religion is a drunk or a meth addict, contrary to what you might think. Or a “high risk sport” player, whatever that is supposed to mean. Lastly, contrary to what you might think, “sex outside of marriage” is not a health risk when done safely. In fact, regular sex as part of a committed relationship burns a lot of calories.

  • amycas

    I wish they would give up on all the silly beliefs–including the ones about Jesus–and live their lives freely without the fear of some god, or religious leaders, watching their every move. Why would it be good for them to give up one silly belief, only to pick up others?

  • amycas

    So far, there have been only correlation studies that show this “higher risk” with regards to blood transfusions. I’m sorry, but if I’m about to bleed out, how could getting a life-saving blood transfusion be a higher risk than my death? That makes no sense. Come back when there are actual randomized studies that show blood transfusions are dangerous.

  • howcanbloodsaveyourlife?
  • howcanbloodsaveyourlife?
  • LearnedPaw

    What is the point of these videos? I’m sure nobody would deny that saving blood where possible is a good idea, considering there is a limited supply. To the extent that you are implying JWs have it right all along because this hospital and the military are eliminating unnecessary transfusions is nonsensical. I guarantee you that the military and the hospital featured in your video would administer blood without even thinking about it if a trauma victim came in and needed it. See my post above. Eliminating organ waste is a good idea also, but it doesn’t change the fact that your religion self-admittedly had it wrong about organs before 1980 (not to mention the fact that in most organ transplants, you are going to get a lot of white cells that are otherwise prohibited). How do you know they don’t have it wrong now too?