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 Jehovah's Witnesses' (WTS) opposition to blood transfusions

Part 2: Four more cases. Hemoglobin
transfusions.
Conclusions & recommendations.

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This is a continuation of the previous essay

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A 2002 case in Alberta, Canada which led to shunning (Cont'd):

According 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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. 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.
  2. "Bethany Hughes: Dad given OK to sue over death," Calgary Sun, 2006-FEB-27.
  3. "The Question of Blood," Indymedia, Ireland, 2006-SEP-21, at: http://indymedia.ie/
  4.  "Hospital ordered to give Jehovah's witness transfusion," Ireland.com, 2006-SEP-21, at: http://home.eircom.net/
  5. Woman dies for refusing blood transfusion," Business Ghana, 2014-JAN-08, at: http://www.businessghana.com/
  6. "Artificial blood," University of Toronto, 2008, at: http://www.anesthesia.utoronto.ca/
  7. Paul Grundy "Jehovah's Witnesses & Blood Transfusions," JWfacts, 2013, at: http://www.jwfacts.com//

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How you got here:

Home > Christianity > Denominations Witnesses > Blood transfusions > here

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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
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