Ray Hemming

Ray Hemming
Jehovah’s Witness Elder

If there’s one thing that people identify Jehovah’s Witnesses with, it’s their refusal of blood transfusions. I know it was a doctrine that I once believed was right for me and my family. If a medical emergency had arisen, a blood transfusion would not have been an option.

I, like many Jehovah’s Witnesses, hoped that such an emergency would never happen. But if it did, I was comforted by the thought that there were alternatives to blood transfusions such as saline, dextrose, etc. These were the kind of alternatives the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society trumpeted in their literature as the preferred emergency non-blood choices.

Three years after my baptism as an ordained minister for Jehovah’s Witnesses, my daughter, who was seven-years old at the time, fell very ill with severe tonsillitis. She lost a lot of weight due to the illness and became frail and weak. Our family doctor referred us to a nearby hospital for consultation, where we were advised that her tonsils should be removed.

However, the physician would not agree to perform the operation without assurance from me that blood could be used if a complication arose in the procedure. I remember nervously asking him to review our blood booklet “Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood.” That’s all we had in those days for medical dilemmas. There were no Hospital Liaison Committees (HLCs) at the time. The doctor said he was familiar with this booklet but refused to discuss the matter.

My wife and I were faced with our first dilemma related to the Watchtower’s doctrine on blood. Should we consent to the doctor’s wishes and hope things turned out okay? With some dismay, we left the hospital with our daughter and began to search for help elsewhere. Eventually, we were directed to a qualified professional, who specialized in alternative medicine. Because of his advice, which included dietary restrictions and some medication, our daughter was helped through that critical period. In time she regained her strength and health, although the problem has never been fully resolved, even today.

The refusal of blood transfusions was a subject that most Jehovah’s Witnesses would try to avoid when in the door-to-door ministry. This is a very emotional doctrine for non-Jehovah’s Witnesses. And there was simply no adequate response to a parent standing in front of you at their door, asking the question, “Would you let your child die?” Any response like “our child will be resurrected in the new world” or “Jehovah’s Witnesses have alternatives to blood” did not cut it, and frankly, that was of no comfort to a rational Jehovah’s Witness.

However, I never dreamed that one day I would be arguing that the Watchtower’s blood policy is very wrong. In fact, the blood transfusion issue is what finally led to me being expelled from the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses after eighteen-years of service.

I had been an “Elder” in the congregation for many years, having teaching assignments, giving public talks, and providing spiritual support to fellow Witnesses. But as time went on, I was beginning to have doubts about some of the information coming from the Watchtower.

During a particularly difficult time in my son’s life, I took some time off work. With spare time on my hand, I began reflecting on my life as a Jehovah’s Witness and browsing the internet–a big “no-no” for Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1998–for information about some of the doctrines of my faith;.

On my internet journey, I found a website entitled “New Light on Blood” (ajwrb.org). I was flabbergasted by the enormous amount of information presented, both biblical and scientific, about the experiences of people affected by the blood policy and the history of the Watchtower’s shifting position regarding its medical prohibitions. This information caused me to re-think my belief on blood.

Eventually, I overturned my strongly entrenched beliefs (2 Corinthians 10:4), because this Website provided well-researched information from medical professionals, appointed men in the congregations, former HLC members, and some Elders operating within the Watchtower organization.

I presented some of this new information in a letter to my Congregational Overseer. Then I sent letters to other Elders that I knew, inviting their comment. While I received no written responses, I was visited by several of these Elders, but they would not talk about the issues. They were afraid to talk with me. The Organization had strangled their ability to comment.

However, I was asked to raise these questions on the blood issue with Elders at the Watchtower Headquarters in London. I think they suggested this in the hope of shifting some of the responsibility away from themselves. So I did as requested, and sent a letter to them. The reply I received (which can be viewed on this website) made no attempt to enter into any dialogue on my questions. Their response amounted to nothing more than a warning about apostates operating on the internet.

A few weeks later, I received another visit from a local Elder, telling me that a judicial committee had been formed and I was invited to attend. A judicial committee is made up of a group of men who act as judges to enforce the Watchtower policy. In my case, the judicial committee was organized to decide if I was guilty of apostasy. I guess being an elder who was circulating material that raised questions about Watchtower policies was enough for them to charge me.

I agreed to attend the meeting in the hope of making at least one of them think about the blood transfusion doctrine differently and perhaps strike a cord in their hearts. I never expected them to agree with me on the subject, as it would have put them in the same precarious position as myself.

During the meeting, I made reference to the words of Jesus concerning the worship of God. Christ said “learn what this means ‘ I want Mercy not Sacrifice’” and how he gave the story of David in the Bible while on the run from King Saul. Here a priest out of mercy is recorded of giving David and his men, who were in desperate need of food, some of the “Show bread” from the Temple, something prohibited under their law. I thought the same principle would reasonably apply today. Jesus clearly was demonstrating to the religious leaders of his day that the spirit behind the law was love. The religious leaders could not see this, that’s why they objected to Jesus disciples plucking grains of wheat on the Sabbath.

Does God want the sacrifice of so many young men, woman, and children, which has occurred with Jehovah’s Witnesses over the years regarding the blood issue? Does this seem reasonable or even logical, when we reflect on those words? Jesus prefaced the expression “I want mercy not sacrifice” with the words, “learn what this means”. Jehovah’s Witnesses as an Organization have not yet learned this basic principle with regard to blood.

There were other points that I raised, such as how over time, the Watchtower had shifted its position on blood, and that now some blood components were considered acceptable in medical treatments that were once viewed as “unacceptable”. This of course became very confusing to the average Jehovah’s Witness, who is not trained in medical procedures or in the chemistry of blood. Because of this, the Watchtower organization gave birth to a new arrangement– the Hospital Liaison Committee. The HLCs were set up because the blood policy had become messy and the Watchtower was losing control over this issue.

For example, some serums with certain blood components in them became acceptable medicine to the Watchtower policymakers. Their reasoning was that this was not feeding on blood. Abstaining from blood is essentially the discourse given in the bible book of Acts 15, on which the Watchtower bases most of its policy. Here, the context of those bible verses is in reference to eating blood. Interestingly, acknowledgment came through the Watchtower that a blood transfusion is essentially an Organ tissue transplant.

So the question remains: Are these tissue transplants “feeding on blood”?

The Watchtower hypocritically remains resolute over their prohibition on blood in spite of their contradictions. These policymakers (Governing Body members) who reside at the Watchtower headquarters in New York, probably will at the same time, sit down to a meal and enjoy a nice steak served up rare, with its blood and think nothing of it and experience no crises of conscience.

At the end of the judicial meeting, they informed me that I was expelled/excommunicated, which meant that no Jehovah’s Witness on the face of this planet would be able to speak or socialize with me. Finally, I remember saying, “Do you believe that you have carried out God’s justice here and acted with the love of Christ?” I said this because these men knew the hard work I had done in that Congregation and the sincerity in which I applied myself over many years but all this seemed irrelevant to them and the presiding overseer said coldly that I would “die at Armageddon” if I continued as I was. I left the meeting with a “goodbye”, and as I walked to my car a great relief came over me because although I knew that I would lose all the friends I had, I also knew I had done the right thing.

The irony of that whole episode in my life is that the Watchtower could change its position once again regarding blood or its components and the same Elders who judged me would have to argue in favor of the changes in policy which had condemned me as an apostate.

Indeed, just two years later, the Watchtower approved the use of the largest of all blood components (hemoglobin) as well as the use of bovine (cow’s blood) to manufacture the blood product Hemopure.

Finding the real truth, good science in this case, is not the issue. Nor is it loyalty to Jesus Christ, the scriptures, or even one’s own conscience. Rather, this is about control and repression, loyalty to the Watchtower Society and its man-made directives.

Ray Hemming

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