Jehovah's Witnesses (WTS) opposition to blood transfusions
Cases involving blood transfusions
Witness' beliefs and teachings about blood:
As explained in a companion essay, the
Jehovah's Witnesses urges its members to refuse to accept blood transfusions
and to not allow them to be given to their children.
This essay describes a few instances involving refusals to accept blood
transfusions. They are intended to indicate the nature of the conflict, and are not a
Some results of refusals to accept transfusions:
Child Protective Services often intrude on parents' rights and take into care sick
children whose health or life is threatened by the lack of a blood transfusion. An adult
Jehovah's Witness who willingly accepts a blood transfusion is considered to be committing
a sin and might forfeit his or her eternal life. Many non-Witness sources imply that the
WTS teaches that all who have had a transfusion (even if given against their will or at
an age or situation when they cannot give informed consent) will automatically lose their
promise of eternal life.
This is in error.
The 1997-FEB edition of the Journal of the American
Medical Association (JAMA) contained a review of the book
Blood on the Altar by David Reed. The reviewer wrote that if the
information in the book is true, then the Witness policy on blood transfusions has "led
thousands to die needlessly." 1
Unfortunately, neither JAMA nor the book reviewer reviewed the accuracy of
The Watch Tower Society (WTS) periodical Awake once showed
pictures of some Jehovah's Witnesses children who followed the ban on
blood transfusions and died. 2 It is, of course, unknown how
many would still have died even if they had a transfusion. One particularly sad case occurred
in the UK when a woman bled to death after giving birth to her second child.
Estimates of maternal death rates among pregnant women:
We have found two reports to date: one from the U.S. and the other from the
- Dr. Carl J. Saphier led a study at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New
York, NY, of the maternal death rate among Jehovah's Witnesses. The report
indicates a death rate of 521 deaths per 100,000 live births--a rate nearly 44
times higher than that among the general US population. The precision of that
number is in doubt because it was based on only two deaths. Sr. Saphier said "The
findings imply that special care is required for women who are Jehovah's
Witnesses, including special counseling prior to delivery, methods of minimizing
the blood loss at delivery, and fast treatment for any hemorrhage."
- A 2004-SEP UK report, the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths (CEMD)
"... the very high risk of mortality in women who refuse blood
transfusion was highlighted. 11
The death rate in this group was 1 per 1,000 maternities compared with an
expected incidence of less than 1 per 100,000 maternities.
Computing the average of these two reports, the
maternal death rate:
- among those refusing blood transfusions is
about 310 per 100.000 births.
- among the general population is about 6 per
- is about 70 times greater for those who refuse
Marvin Shilmer posted the following calculation to the
Jehovahs-Witness.com discussion forum:
"Assuming an annual birth rate of 20 per 1,000, and based
on the Watchtower organization's annual statistics, over the period of 1995
through 2006 there were at least 1,455,000 births among Jehovah's Witnesses.
Assuming these women presented themselves as refusing blood, this translates
into 1,455 deaths during this period." 12
If all had accepted transfusions when needed, only 21 might have died. The
Jehovah's Witness' policy on blood transfusions thus cause on the order of 10
preventable deaths a month, 120 a year, within their organization.
WARNING: These are simply an opinion and is
undoubtedly biased by the webmaster's Agnostic
religious beliefs and Humanistic philosophy:
The gap between the maternal death rates in the
American and UK medical system (on the order of 12 times) is a shocking
indicator of the depraved indifference of politicians and others in the
provision of medical care to American women. In the U.S., many poor women's
first pre-natal contact with a physician occurs during labor.
If the Watchtower Society is wrong, and the
other 1,500 Christian groups in the U.S. are correct, then there is no
prohibition of blood transfusions mentioned in the biblical text. The Bible
verses quoted by the WTS actually relate to diet and eating. All of
these women are dying needlessly.
On the other hand, if the Watchtower Society is
right, then these women are exchanging perhaps five decades of life on Earth in
exchange for assurance that they will not be annihilated when they die. That is
a great bargain.
A 1998 case in California:
An unusual court case involving a Witness and a blood transfusion occurred in Pomona,
CA. Keith Cook, a drunken driver, had rammed his pickup truck into a stationary car,
pushing it into a 55 year old woman, Jadine Russell who was standing by the side of the
road. Being a Jehovah's Witness, she refused a blood transfusion, and later died in hospital. Cook
was found not guilty on his original murder charge, but was convicted of manslaughter.
Prosecutors said Cook was responsible for the death because he caused the injuries. His
lawyers argued that the immediate cause of Russell's death was her refusal of a blood
A 2002 case in Alberta, Canada which led to shunning:
In 2002-FEB, A 51 year old Jehovah's Witness father was faced with the news
that his daughter was dying from acute myeloid leukemia -- an illness that is
invariably fatal if not aggressively treated. He had to select one of two
gut-wrenching alternatives -- both unacceptable:
- To violate his religious training and authorize a series of blood
transfusions for his daughter. This would give her a 40 to 50% chance of
- To stay true to his denomination's beliefs, refuse the transfusions,
and let his daughter die.
His name has been kept confidential in order to protect his daughter. He and
the rest of his family lives in Alberta, Canada. However, the same events could
have happened to any Jehovah's Witness family anywhere in the world.
To go against the teachings of his faith is not an easy decision for a
Jehovah's Witness. Most of the parents friends, and all of the daughter's
friends are Witnesses. They are now required to shun the father. He said:
was under tremendous pressure. Because, I knew that if I went against what the
church taught, that I would be excommunicated and no Jehovah's witness would
ever speak to me again, including my own family... When I made the decision with
a clear conscience, I went into my daughter's hospital room. My whole family was
there, and I told them about my decision, saying: 'No matter what happens with
this case, I still love you, each and every one of you.' And their reply, each
of them was: 'We hate you and we'll never speak to you again.'
to the Canadian Press reporter Carol Harrington:
"Shunned by the Jehovah's
Witnesses he once embraced, he's a now [sic] lonely man, ignored by family and
friends as if he were a wondering ghost. He's been 'lost' for almost a month,
since defying his faith by agreeing to blood transfusions for his 16-year old
leukemia-stricken daughter. He phones his daughter every day. Sometimes she
says "I hate you." According to Ms. Harrington: "Then, there are
kinder, gentler moments when she says the opposite." 6
Shunning is an ancient practice that is occasionally used to enforce
conformity by the
Jehovah's Witnesses, some Amish communities, and a few
other other conservative Christian denominations. It is based on a number of
biblical passages such as: Matthew 18:15-17:
"Moreover if thy brother shall
trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him
alone...But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more...And
if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to
hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican."
Other references are found at
1 Corinthians 5:11 and Romans 16:17. However, it is taught as a procedure
involving passive, disengagement. Expressing hatred towards a shunned person is
a violation of Jehovah's Witnesses teachings.
Father launches wrongful death lawsuit:
In late 2006-FEB, Lawrence Hughes, father of the
late Bethany Hughes, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Canada against the
Watchtower Society. It is believed to be related to the above case. Bethany refused blood transfusions which she said violated
her religious beliefs as a Jehovah's Witness. She died
of leukemia on 2002-SEP-05. He ought $800,000 damages in Canadian Funds, worth
about $700,000 US. 7
A 2006 case in Ireland:
This is a special case because it appears to be the first instance in Ireland
where a court ordered a blood transfusion be given to an adult against her will.
Ms. K, an African woman aged 23, from the Congo gave birth at the Coombe
women's hospital in Dublin on SEP-21. The baby is doing fine, but the mother
started to hemorrhage. She allegedly lost 80% of her blood. She is a Jehovah's
Witness and refused a blood translation. The hospital applied to a the High
Court of Ireland on an emergency basis. The court ordered that a transfusion be given.
Ewen Watt, a spokesperson of Jehovah's Witnesses in Ireland, said blood
transfusions were a matter for individual members to decide. He said:
"That is a personal decision for each individual Christian to make. Each
one of the Jehovah's Witnesses would have to make a decision with regard to
that. ... The whole ethical position has been settled many years ago.
Pediatricians, surgeons and doctors have a booklet with regard to what
treatments can be carried out. And they recognize the right to bodily
integrity. ... I'm very puzzled by the judgment."
According to eircom.net:
"Mr Justice Henry Abbott ruled that doctors must intervene in the
interests of the child. The judge said he accepted Ms K was compos mentis
[of sound mind] and if brought to court on a stretcher she would oppose the
application. But he told the court he felt it necessary to override her
religious beliefs on the grounds that her baby boy had no other relatives,
or guardians, that were known of in the state. Mr Justice Abbott said the
interests of the child were paramount and that he must err on the side of
preserving life. Arguments over whether the transfusion should be given
could be heard at a later date, he added."
Previous rulings by the High Court that ordered blood transfusions were:
- In 2002, a Jehovah's Witness student was considering whether or not to
have a blood transfusion when she/he slipped into a coma. The court ruled
that a transfusion be given.
- In 2004, a six month-old baby was made a ward of the court in order to
allow doctors to proceed with an open-heart surgery. The baby's mother had
earlier refused permission. The baby survived. 8,9
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Book review in JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association), 1997-FEB-5 Vol. 277,
No.5, page 425
- Awake! magazine for 1994-MAY-22, Page 2. The issue's cover showed
photographs of 26 Jehovah's Witness children who refused a blood transfusion
and subsequently died.
- Michael Smith, "Jehovah's Witness Bleeds To Death After Giving Birth",
The Daily Telegraph (London, UK), 1993-FEB-5. See: http://www.rickross.com/reference/Art64.html
- Charnicia E. Huggins, "Childbirth Death Risk High in Jehovah's
Witnesses," Reuters, at:
http://news.excite.com/news/r/011108/17/health-childbirth Based on a
report in American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology
- Current News Summary by the Editors at Religion Today,
1998-DEC-21. See: http://www.religiontoday.com/Archive/NewsSummary/
- Carol Harrington, "Father shunned by family for defying faith to save
child," Canadian Press. Published in the Toronto Star, Toronto ON,
2002-MAR-11, Page A7.
- "Bethany Hughes: Dad given OK to sue over death," Calgary Sun, 2006-FEB-27.
- "The Question of Blood," Indymedia, Ireland, 2006-SEP-21, at:
- "Hospital ordered to give Jehovah's witness transfusion," Ireland.com,
- Department of Health. "Report on Confidential Enquiries into Maternal
Deaths in the United Kingdom 1994 - 1996. Why Mothers Die. London, The
Stationery Office 1998, 1-275
- M Khadra, "A criterion audit of women's awareness of blood transfusion
in pregnancy," 1Women & Children's Division, North Staffordshire Maternity
Unit, Newcastle Road, Stoke on Trent, Staffs, ST4 6QG, UK, at:
http://www.biomedcentral.com/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from:
- Marvin Shilmer, "Deaths Due To Blood Refusal," Jehovahs-Witness.com,
How you got here:
Copyright © 1996 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on
Initial version written on: 1996-SEP-29
Last updated on: 2008-SEP-27
Author: B.A. Robinson