Part II    [Back to Part 1)

(Investigator 173, 2017 March)


Current alternatives to blood transfusion often fail in rapid, massive blood loss as occurs in some maternity cases, accidents and wounds.

Hunt (1993) reported that a man received "400 pints of blood" after a lorry crushed his pelvis and mentions another case when a policeman was stabbed and required 300 pints. The Advertiser reported that a woman received "nearly eight litres of blood" following a "rare complication after she gave birth". (July 19, 2013)

In a study of 1958 JWs who had surgery without blood transfusions Tobian et al (2009) found that "Mortality increases as hemoglobin levels fall." 117 patients had postoperative hemoglobin levels below 6 gram/deciliter of whom 39 died. (Normal levels are 14-17 g/dl for men and 12-15 g/dl for women.)

Many commentators mention "risks of infections" from blood. However, in high-income countries such risks are tiny:
•    HIV: 3/100,000
•    Hepatitis B: 30/100,000
•    Hepatitis C: 20/100,000 (WHO 2016)

It is far riskier to reject blood when surgeons think transfusion necessary.


In the 1980s the JW Governing Body introduced added monitoring by establishing "Hospital Liaison Committees", and have also advised JWs to give power of attorney to another JW.  Yet many JWs still accepted blood or blood components banned to them. Varela et al (2003) write: "blood transfusions are performed in up to 7% of Jehovah's Witnesses cases…"

Kerry Louderback-Wood (2005) is an American lawyer and former JW whose mother died after rejecting a transfusion. She suggests that the possible misrepresentation of medical risks in JW publications makes the Watchtower Society vulnerable to law suits by relatives of people who died from following the teaching. She argues that constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion do not remove the legal responsibility regarding misrepresenting secular fact.

The Associated Jehovah’s Witnesses for Reform on Blood (AJWRB), founded in 1997 claim to have thousands of supporters in 25 countries including elders, doctors, and members of Hospital Liaison Committees. The founder Lee Elder (a pseudonym) says his grandmother died due to obeying the blood ban.

Further divisiveness is doctrinal revision. In 1961 JWs opposed donation, storage and infusing of both blood and blood fractions:

The Bible is very clear that blood could properly be used only on the altar; otherwise it was to be poured out on the ground. (Lev. 17:11-13) The entire modern medical practice involving the use of blood is objectionable from the Christian standpoint. Therefore the taking of a blood transfusion, or, in lieu of that, the infusing of some blood fraction to sustain one’s life is wrong. (Watchtower 1961 11/1 670)

In the 1970s this total ban began revision by making blood fractions a conscience matter. (Watchtower 1990 6/1 30-31; How Can Blood Save Your Life? 1990, 27)

In 1975 the JW Governing Body banned JW hemophiliacs from receiving clotting factors such as Factor VIII (Awake! 1975 2/22 30) but later permitted clotting factors. (Watchtower 1978 6/15 30)

Transfusions of whole blood (including one's own self-donated blood), red cells, white cells, platelets and plasma are still prohibited. Wikipedia (2016) lists the following as now acceptable:

•    Blood donation for purpose of fractionation of red cells, white cells, platelets or plasma for either allogeneic or autologous transfusion.
•    Hemodilution (when equipment is arranged in a circuit with patients' circulatory systems.
•    Blood salvage — reinfusing blood spilt during surgery.
•    Heart-Lung Machine.
•    Dialysis.
•    Epidural Blood Patch.
•    Plasmapheresis — blood withdrawn, filtered and plasma removed, and returned to the patient.
•    Fractions from red blood cells.
•    Fractions from white blood cells — Interferons and Interleukins.
•    Fractions from platelets — Platelet factor 4.
•    Fractions from blood plasma —  Albumin, Globulins, Cryoprecipitate, Clotting factors including Factor VIII and Factor IX.


Investigator #12 (1990) cited news reports of four JW deaths from bleeding in South Australia. About 1/700th of JWs worldwide lived in SA; therefore a world total of JW deaths until 1990 was estimated at 700x4 = 2800.

A similar calculation, based on New Zealand with about 1/500th of JWs, and 5 known deaths, is 500x5 = 2500

Such calculations show promise but are questionable because:
•    Sample sizes are too small;
•    Newspapers may not report all JW bleeding-deaths;
•    Probably not all newspaper reports were found;
•    Patients in hospital are there because they are injured or sick and may die whether they receive blood or not.

Singla et al (2001) calculated a maternal death rate of 512 per 100,000 live births among USA JW women. [In most countries the rate for all women is below 70  —] Assuming a birth rate of 20 per thousand women per year, and JW females in the 1990s numbering 3,000,000 worldwide, suggests about 300 JW maternal deaths annually in childbirth. Again, the sample is small, based on few actual known deaths.

Most JWs survived surgery, even major surgery. Ott and Cooley (1977) reported cardiovascular surgery in 542 JWs and, "anemia was a contributing factor in 12 deaths, and loss of blood was the direct cause of three deaths." Such positive results, however, may not be as impressive as appears since the surgeons probably "cherry picked" JW patients for their survival potential and bypassed riskier, more-difficult cases.

The total unnecessary JW deaths since 1945 surely number thousands but less than the 250,000 claimed on some websites!


The conflict with the medical profession originally started when JWs wanted treatment in hospitals but died rather than accept blood.

JWs are right in that blood transfusions were over-used, sometimes transmitted disease, and have other risks associated with them. (Nowak 2008)  However, a small risk of disease is tolerable compared to death when bleeding is severe.
In 1961 the JW blood ban included blood fractions. JWs lost that debate when they began to accept blood fractions. This contradicted their teaching that even collection and storage of blood is unbiblical. JWs also sometimes removed children from hospital and hid them to prevent transfusions but that practice apparently stopped.

Investigator #8 suggested the JW Governing Body would retain their blood ban despite the dubious theology behind it in the hope that new technology will reduce the need for transfusions. JWs have endured numerous revisions to their "Bible truth" (i.e. their doctrines), including other medical conflicts and false dates for Armageddon, and might not cope well if it's also admitted that thousands died needlessly.

Technology indeed "came to the rescue" including hyperbaric oxygen therapy, blood fractions, "blood management", laser surgery, faster surgery times, artificial blood, and in future possibly stem cells:

Blood donations may become a thing of the past due to advances in stem cell technology... The Daily Telegraph says that a new way has been discovered of growing “potentially unlimited supplies of blood in the lab”… (Harborough Mail, 19 August, 2008)

Advances in technology, however, require the work of highly trained graduates whereas JW theology discourages education beyond high-school:

If you are a young person, you also need to face the fact that you will never grow old in this present system of things. Why not?  Because all the evidence in fulfillment of Bible prophecy indicates that this corrupt system is due to end in a few years. Of the generation that observed the beginning of the "last days" in 1914, Jesus foretold: "This generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur."—Matt. 24:34.

Therefore, as a young person, you will never fulfill any career that this system offers. If you are in high school and thinking about a college education, it means at least four, perhaps six or eight more years to graduate into a specialized career. But where will this system of things be by that time? It will be well on the way toward its finish, if not actually gone! (Awake! 1969 May 22, page 15)

The advanced education criticized and discouraged by JWs has saved thousands of their lives! Ironic!

The main losers are the JWs who died unnecessarily believing they won't stay dead for long because Armageddon would come in "the twentieth century".

But on the propaganda front JWs are winners. The conflict with courts, hospitals and critics, along with JWs being useful as volunteers in medical research, gained the sect much free publicity.


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