This Rock Magazine Staff
Catholic Quick Questions
Why won't Jehovah's Witnesses accept blood transfusions, even when their lives are in jeopardy?
Mainly because their founder, Charles Taze Russell, scrambled to come up with a unique set of doctrines that would stand out from the pack. He didn't seem to care which biblical teachings he embraced and which he rejected, so long as the resulting doctrinal pastiche would be exotic. Rejecting blood transfusions on "biblical" grounds is one of the odd tenets that make the Watchtower a truly odd organization. Witnesses cite two verses as bases for their position: "You shall eat no blood whatever, whether of fowl or of animal, in any of your dwellings. Whoever eats any blood, that person shall be cut off from his people" (Lev. 7:26-27); "For the life of every creature is the blood of it; therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off" (Lev. 17:14).
Besides being inconsistent by retaining this particular Old Covenant prohibition while ignoring others, such as circumcision (cf. Gen. 17:2-14) and kosher dietary laws (cf. Deut. 14:3-21), Witnesses misunderstand what these passages are talking about. In both Leviticus 7 and 17 the prohibition is against the <eating> of blood, not reception of blood through transfusions (a medical procedure which was developed only within the last century). Witnesses ignore the fact that in a single passage in Leviticus the Lord prohibits the eating of both blood and fat: "It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, in all your dwelling places, that you eat neither fat nor blood" (3:17). Yet the Watchtower does not condemn the eating of fat, and no Jehovah's Witness would feel any moral compunction against eating a bag of fried pork rinds or enjoying a nice, fatty cut of prime rib. This is a good example of the Watchtower's selective "theology."
Copyright (c) 1994 Catholic Answers. Reprinted with permission from the March 1994 issue of <This Rock> magazine.