Jehovah's Witnesses' (WTS) opposition to blood transfusions
Part 2: Four more cases. Hemoglobin
transfusions. Conclusions & recommendations.
A 2002 case in Alberta, Canada which led to shunning (Cont'd):
to the Canadian Press reporter Carol Harrington:
"Shunned by the Jehovah's
Witnesses he once embraced, he's a now [a] 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." 1
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.
2006: 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. 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 sought $800,000 damages in Canadian Funds, worth
about $700,000 US at the time. 2
A 2006 case in Ireland:
This is a special case because it appears to be the first instance in Ireland
where a court ordered that a blood transfusion be given to an adult against her will.
Ms. K, a woman, 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 have been 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. 3,4
2014-JAN-03: Woman dies in Ghana:
A Jehovah's Witness woman, 21, with severe anaemia refused a transfusion of haemoglobin and died at the Effia-Nkwanta Regional Hospital in Ghana.
Dr Ata-Wura -- the hospital's Acting Medical Director -- said a patient could suffer cardiac failure when the haemoglobin level was low as the heart would not be able to circulate sufficient oxygen to the various parts of the body.
Mr. Frank Amevor, a Jehovah's Witness, said that life was a gift from God. Therefore those who loved life should not sustain it by blood transfusion. He said:
"It is a non-negotiable religious stand. Blood is life and sacred to God." 5
Does the Jehovah's Witness allow transfusions of "artificial blood"?
During 2008, The Department of Anesthesis at the University of Toronto speculated whether "artificial blood:
"... based on hemoglobin extracted from outdated human blood or from animal sources will be acceptable to Jehovah's Witnesses once these products become available in the next several years. ... "
"Until recently, it appeared that such artificial blood would be banned for Jehovah's Witnesses. For instance, in 1998 Richard Bailey and Tomonori Ariga, writing in an official capacity, explained the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society's (WTS) policy to the medical community:
'… Jehovah's Witnesses do not accept whole blood, or major components of blood, namely, red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and plasma. Also they do not accept hemoglobin which is a major part of red blood cells ... According to these principles then, Jehovah's Witnesses do not accept a blood substitute which uses hemoglobin taken from a human or animal source.'
More recently however, there has been an important but subtle change in WTS policy that clinicians should be aware of. Whereas the WTS had previously permitted Jehovah's Witnesses to accept fractions of blood plasma, it appears that they may now accept fractions of all "primary" components. The WTS defines 'primary' components as red cells, white cells, platelets and plasma.
This policy clarification appears to open the door to the use of hemoglobin-based blood substitutes for Witnesses and would be expected to result in a number of lives saved annually." 6
The JWFACTS website, which is not an official Watchtower site, states:
Since 2000, Jehovah's Witnesses have been allowed to transfuse many ... blood factors. ... Hemoglobin is an allowed component [that] makes up over 15% of the volume of blood. Quite startling, once broken down into fractions a Witness can transfuse 100% of blood. ..."
"The Watchtower attempts to create a semblance of logic to its allowance of blood fractions by presenting the concept that blood consists of four primary 'components'. Use of these components is unchristian but when these components are broken into 'fractions' their use is acceptable.
This Watchtower distinction of fractions from components is used to make it appear that a component is somehow different and hence more of a violation when used than a fraction. This is flawed reasoning because a component is a fraction; these are interchangeable terms. Many medical texts refer to red and white blood cells as fractions. Likewise, text books discuss the breakdown of plasma into components." 7
JWFACTS gives a timeline of the Watchtower Society's stance on haemoglobin:
"Haemoglobin is what makes blood blood, as it carries the oxygen. It is also a major component of blood by weight, accounting for 33% of red blood cells and 14% of whole blood. As such, to allow haemoglobin effectively makes the Watchtower's entire blood policy meaningless.
- 1992 - Haemoglobin is specifically forbidden: "It would be right, of course, to avoid products that listed things such as blood, blood plasma, plasma, globin [or globulin] protein, or hemoglobin [or globin] iron." See: Watchtower 1992 Oct 15, Page 31.
- 2000- Indirectly Allowed: With the Watchtower 2000-JUN-15 stating that fractions of the four blood components are allowed, haemoglobin was indirectly permitted, being a fraction of red blood cells.
- 2006- Specifically Allowed: In the Kingdom Ministry 2006-NOV, Page 5, a work sheet specifically stated that haemoglobin is a personal decision. 7
Conclusions & recommendations:
If a Jeshovah's Witnesses is faced with a decision whether to have a blood transfusion, haemoglobin transfusion, or any other transfusion related directly or indirectly to blood, we recommend that she or he should make every effort to determine the current precise position of the Watchtower Society. The WTS' position appears to change radically over time. Obtaining accurate, up-to-date informtion might make the difference between their life and death.
The life of the unidentified Jehovah's Witness woman in Ghana might have been saved if she had been aware of the 2006 Kingdom Ministry work sheet.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- 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: http://indymedia.ie/
- "Hospital ordered to give Jehovah's witness transfusion," Ireland.com,
2006-SEP-21, at: http://home.eircom.net/
- Woman dies for refusing blood transfusion," Business Ghana, 2014-JAN-08, at: http://www.businessghana.com/
- "Artificial blood," University of Toronto, 2008, at: http://www.anesthesia.utoronto.ca/
- Paul Grundy "Jehovah's Witnesses & Blood Transfusions,"
JWfacts, 2013, at: http://www.jwfacts.com//
How you got here:
Copyright © 1996 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Initial version written on: 1996-SEP-29
Last updated on: 2014-JAN-10
Author: B.A. Robinson