By Dieter Parczany
During the early 1990’s, I was a member of the Hospital Liaison Committee (HLC) in Berlin, Germany. Since I was a Jehovah’s Witness elder with special training and knowledge about Watchtower’s blood policies, I served as the chairman of the committee. I was also completely convinced that I practiced what I preached since I had refused to allow my dying 8-year-old son to have a blood transfusion from the beginning of his therapy until his death in 1990.
While I served on the HLC, I was in a unique position to help JWs because from 1989 – 2004 I worked as an administrative assistant in the Hematology/Oncology Department at the prestigious university clinic—Charite—in Berlin. Working there I was familiar with the latest developments in the use of blood and blood components; although I left the Watchtower organization in January of 1998.
But long before that, in 1974, I attended the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. While there, I became acquainted with senior writer and later helper to the Governing Body, Gene Smalley, and his wife, Anita. Anita was also from my home town of Berlin, Germany.
In 1993 or 1994 Gene and Anita stayed at our home in Berlin. During their long visit, we had many conversations about a wide variety of organizational and biblical subjects.
During one of those chats, I mentioned to Gene that if we really wanted to keep interpreting Acts 15 as a commandment from God to not take blood, would it not make sense to interpret it as a commandment about whole blood and not about components of blood?
I argued that if we could accept this and refrain from making arbitrary rules about blood components, we could save a lot of lives in the future, since transfusing blood components is standard medical treatment.
Gene did not contradict my reasoning, which did not surprise me. I believe it made perfect sense to him. But there was big problem with my rational analysis and he brought me back to reality when he said, as best that I can recall, “We cannot change this. Think about all the faithful ones who died.”
I swallowed hard and said nothing. I could not refute his logic. Gene’s advice made sense from a legal point of view. Mind you, I was being unduly influenced by Watchtower’s group think, not yet able to think clearly, speak up and act on my own free will.
Today I’m in a much different place and must tell you what’s on my mind. All Jehovah’s Witnesses, and every hospital, doctor, nurse, lawyer or judge who has to deal with a true-believing Witness, when they refuse a blood transfusion, must be be aware of the following fact:
So-called “blood transfusions” are usually not transfusions of whole blood. It is standard medical treatment, has been for many years, to transfuse only components of blood, like red cells (erythrocytes), white cells (leukocytes), platelets (thrombocytes), or plasma, according to what it is appropriate to the medical condition of a patient.
Even if Jehovah’s Witnesses correctly interpret the commandment in Acts 15:29 “To abstain from blood”, I strongly believe it is reasonable to think the abstention command could only apply to whole blood, with all its components. Why? Because the verse does not discuss components, just blood as a “whole” substance.
To illustrate my point: Who would conclude that someone receiving oxygen as a medical treatment is drinking water (or taking water into their body)? It’s true that oxygen is one of the primary components of water. However, the fact is that oxygen, in itself, is not water. The same is true with blood: red cells (erythrocytes), white cells (leukocytes), platelets (thrombocytes), or plasma are not blood. They are primary components of blood as oxygen is a primary component of water.
Additionally, the “red” color of blood does not prove anything. Bone marrow (which JWs are allowed to accept) is red and much more similar in consistency to “whole” blood than red cells (erythrocytes), white cells (leukocytes), platelets (thrombocytes), or plasma.
It should also be noted that hemoglobin (a large blood fraction of the red cell)—the protein that actually transports oxygen—is “red” and approved for use by Watchtower’s leaders. When it is used for a transfusion into a JW patient, it looks just like blood. It would be hard to tell the difference.
These are not inconsequential theological and medical concepts. This is personal. In 1990 our eight-year-old son, Manuel, died from cancer after two years of chemotherapy and radiation. Since we had refused the transfusion of blood components, Manuel could only receive reduced dosages of chemotherapy and radiation, and this likely led to a higher probability of a relapse and to his death.
My misguided beliefs, as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, had a very dramatic and detrimental impact on my life and my family.
The feeling of being a victim, and the accumulated guilt, has motivated me to tell my story, which I first published under my pen name (Peter Porjohn) in a book titled, “Acquiring Freedom from Fundamentalist Religious Thinking”.
It is my wish that in the near future all responsible doctors or nurses treating a Jehovah’s Witness patient will be able to comfortably say, “We do not want to give you a blood transfusion. To save your life, or the life of your loved one, we are recommending that a component of blood be administered.”
In a future post on AJWRB, I will share with you chapter seven of my book, which details my personal struggle with the Watchtower’s blood doctrine. And it is my hope that my story, Manuel’s story, will prevent needless death for someone in your family, especially if you are still one of Jehovah’s Witnesses or share their views on blood.