Blood Transfusion – is it a meal?

DinnermealWhen the Watchtower Society established its transfusion ban it argued that a blood transfusion was the same as eating blood. In those days, when they also prohibited vaccinations and serums, it established the rhetoric that is still used today:

“Many say receiving a transfusion is not like eating blood. Is this view sound?

A patient in the hospital may be fed through the mouth, through the nose, or through the veins. When sugar solutions are given intravenously, it is called intravenous feeding. So the hospital’s own terminology recognizes as feeding the process of putting nutrition into one’s system via the veins. Hence the attendant administering the transfusion is feeding the patient blood through the veins, and the patient receiving it is eating it through his veins.” (The Watchtower, July 1, 1951, p. 415)

Present day reasoning remains essentially the same: a blood transfusion is eating through veins.

Some persons may reason that getting a blood transfusion is not actually eating. But is it not true that when a patient is unable to eat through his mouth, doctors often feed him by the same method in which a blood transfusion is administered? Examine the scriptures carefully and notice that they tell us to keep free from blood and to abstain from blood. (Acts 15:20, 29) What does this mean? If a doctor were to tell you to abstain from alcohol, would that mean simply that you should not take it through your mouth but that you could transfuse it directly into your veins? Of course not! So, too, abstaining from blood means not taking it into our bodies at all. (The Watchtower, June 1, 1969, p. 326-7)

If you have been a Witness for any period of time, you have heard this analogy many times. Is it a fair one? Not really, because alcohol and blood are very different fluids. Alcohol is already in a form that can be utilized by the bodies cells and absorbed as a food or nutrient. Blood, on the other hand, is completely different. Once transfused, it is not digested or utilized as a food. It remains the same fluid tissue with the same form and function.

For blood to be utilized as food, it would first have to be literally eaten and then pass through the digestive tract. That these are the facts can be readily seen from simply considering why it is that a doctor would prescribe a blood transfusion. Would he do it because a patient is malnourished and needs a good meal? Of course not. He orders the transfusion because the patient lacks the ability to transport oxygen to his cells in sufficient quantity.

On this argument rests the entire blood prohibition. Is the argument valid?

dripDefinitely not! Consider the case where two patients are admitted to a hospital because they are not able to eat and thus sustain themselves. One patient is given a blood transfusion, whereas the other is given I.V. Dextrose or the equivalent. Which one will live? Obviously, it is the one given I.V. Dextrose which can actually be used by the body as food. The patient given the blood transfusion will die because blood is not food, but simply the vehicle used to transport it.

As seen earlier, the WTS has appealed to certain doctors to support their ideas that a blood transfusion is eating:

“It is of no consequence that the blood is taken into the body through the veins instead of the mouth. Nor does the claim by some that it is not the same as intravenous feeding carry weight. The fact is that it nourishes or sustains the life of the body. In harmony with this is a statement in the book Hemorrhage and Transfusion, by George W. Crile, A.M., M.D., who quotes a letter from Denys, French physician and early researcher in the field of transfusions. It says: ‘In performing transfusion it is nothing else than nourishing by a shorter road than ordinary – that is to say, placing in the veins blood all made in place of taking food which only turns to blood after several changes.’” (The Watchtower, Sept. 15, 1961, p. 558)

What the Society does not tell its readers, is that this doctor, Jean Baptiste Denys, lived in the 17th century. (It turns out that Dr. Denys never said the words attributed to him by the Watchtower). Medical science long ago abandoned this idea. Later, the Society tried to appeal to another authority, the Dane Thomas Bartholin, but now they at least admit he also lived in the 17th century. Why has the WTS found no support for this peculiar idea among more recent medical experts? Because there are none. Not even the medical doctors who are themselves Jehovah’s Witnesses will ruin their reputation by supporting this claim.

The simple fact is that a blood transfusion is an organ transplant, not nutrition.

It took a long time, but this fact is now admitted by the Society:

“As cardiovascular surgeon Denton Cooley notes: ‘A blood transfusion is an organ transplant.’” (Awake! Oct. 22, 1990, p. 9)

“When doctors transplant a heart, a liver, or another organ, the recipient’s immune system may sense the foreign tissue and reject it. Yet, a transfusion is a tissue transplant.” (How Can Blood Save Your Life, 1990, p. 8; emphasis in original)

In times past the Society would argue that a blood transfusion was objectionable because it constituted the eating of blood:

“Each time the prohibition of blood is mentioned in the Scriptures it is in connection with taking itas food, and so it is as a nutrient that we are concerned with in its being forbidden.” W58 9/15 575 Questions from Readers

When they finally caught up with the previous sixty years of scientific knowledge, in the mid 1960’s, and they came to appreciate that blood transfusions are not a “feeding on blood,” they were faced with a dilemma. For the last few decades, the society has tried to get around this problem by referring to blood transfusions, not as eating blood, but as a sustaining of one’s life my means of blood. This is an unwarranted insertion of a concept that is not scriptural as we have already seen. Ironically, the blood components that the society does allow are taken precisely to sustain ones life.

As already discussed, for blood to become food, it will have to be eaten, to pass the digestive system and be broken down into components that can be used by the body’s cells. This does not happen during a blood transfusion. The blood retains its function as blood, and is used as it was used in the donor’s body: to transport nourishment and oxygen to the different parts of the body. A blood transfusion is not nourishing any more than a kidney transplant is.

As we see, the Society knows this. Then why does the leadership keep claiming that a blood transfusion is the same as eating when there is no support whatsoever for this claim, and when it also says it is an organ transplant? Note this:

A blood transfusion cannot be an organ transplant and a meal at the same time!

As we have seen earlier, the WTS prohibited organ transplants between 1967 and 1980, claiming it was cannibalism. Even though this position was obviously unbiblical and illogical, it was at least consistent with the blood prohibition. At that time, it could be argued that:

eating a kidney is like having a kidney transplant

eating blood is like having a blood transfusion

However, when the ban on organ transplants was lifted, this changed:

eating a kidney is not like having a kidney transplant

eating blood is like having a blood transfusion

The inconsistency of retaining the ban on blood transfusions while lifting the ban on organ transplants cannot be lost on the Governing Body in Brooklyn.

More recently, the connection between the transfusion of blood and the eating of blood has been made in more subtle ways. For example in the Reasoning book on page 73 an attempt is made to establish this link by analogy:

“Consider a man who is told by his doctor that he must abstain from alcohol. Would he be obedient if he quit drinking alcohol but had it put directly into his veins?”

With substances like alcohol and certain drugs it makes no difference how they are administered because the end result, the absorption by the body, is the same. However what if the end result was not the same? Would this man in question also be prohibited from using a mouthwash or cough syrup that contained alcohol? Would he be prohibited from using alcohol as a topical antiseptic or in an after shave? The very idea is ridiculous because the purpose is entirely different. The error of this analogy can be illustrated with a similar one we like to use:

“Consider a man who is told by his doctor that he must abstain from meat. Would he be obedient if he quit eating meat, but accepted a kidney transplant?”

Obviously eating and receiving an organ transplant are completely dissimilar just as the eating of blood and the transfusion of blood are in no way connected.

Why, then, did they keep the ban on blood transfusions? It is a simple fact that the Society will be hard pressed to lift this prohibition and admit that it has been a tragic misunderstanding from the start. So much literal blood has been spilled, so many young and old victims have been hailed as heroes, and the brothers and sisters have gone through so much pain, court cases, fears and losses that there would be an unprecedented outcry among Jehovah’s Witnesses and outsiders if it were suddenly lifted, and yet that is what must happen.

This is well-known inside the walls of the Watchtower Organization. It is interesting to observe that the Watchtower and Awake! magazines eagerly report any indications that medical science may one day make the necessity of blood transfusions a thing of the past. To give one example: news items about development of “artificial blood” have appeared numerous times since 1970. From the Watchtower Publications Index 1930-1985 we find the following entry under the popular topic “blood substitutes,” showing that this otherwise rarely covered topic had been covered in sixteen articles:

“‘artificial blood’: w85 4/15 21; w83 11/1 23; w82 5/1 7; g82 6/22 26; g81 6/22 29-30; g80 2/22 21-3; g80 8/8 29-30; w79 11/15 29; g79 8/8 31; g79 10/8 29; g78 2/8 29; g74 6/22 22; g73 7/8 31; g72 6/22 29-30; g70 1/22 30; g70 2/8 30” [w is the literature code for The Watchtower magazine; g is the code for the Awake! magazine]. The 2013 Watchtower Library indexes a staggering 216 occurrences.

This is only a small sample of the WTS articles dedicated to “blood substitutes.” It is a fact that the Society uses enormous resources to find alternatives to blood transfusions to minimize casualties. Even more, the fact that suitable replacements for blood transfusions have not been forthcoming as the Society had hoped have caused it to slowly abandon its position on blood, but in a way that many had not become aware of until AJWRB began publishing and advocating for change back in 1998.

We believe it is accurate to say that the Watchtower Society no longer really believes that blood transfusions are wrong. The work done to minimize casualties by permitting all blood fractions is a step in the right direction but the policy continues to cost many lives and much suffering – and for what purpose? Primarily to maintain the organizational image and prestige of the governing body.

Sadly, even at this late date (2014) the Watchtower continues to perpetuate the myth that a blood transfusion equals “eating blood”. 1

While the Society is waiting for medical science to save it from this deadly dilemma, it has demonstrated its lack of faith in its own doctrines by compromising on the principles it claims to uphold. Why should you or your children die for something their actions demonstrate they don’t even believe in?


  1. surfboard

    Very interesting. My own feeling is that the GB will never have the courage to admit they were wrong. They have got themselves out on a limb; there is no return.

    • Boaventura Joao

      Whatever we or you can say, wheather blood transfusion is a nutrition or transplant, we agree that Jehovah God,the Creator of the blood, He knows what is best for us. We agree that if He told us to obstain from the blood, He had a good reason to say that, even if the reason had not came open to the doctors today. Onother issue is that God is the High Inteligent. So He knows even what will be discovered by doctor in 1000 years to come. If you areca honest person, you need to admit that what the science claim to be true, tomorrow may be proofed false. So medicine discoveres should not be said trustfull as tomorrow may be claimed a big erro.

      • Lee Elder

        We can agree that the writer of the book of Acts wrote to “abstain from blood”. However, to assume that this comment has anything to do with the modern practice of blood transfusion requires a huge intellectual leap that the context does not support. You can find a discussion of these issues here: We feel that you will likely reach a similar conclusion after you carefully study the scriptures and context outside of what the Watchtower has published to support its nonsensical policy.

      • Mary

        Is that an attempt at trying to minimize the damage the WTS has caused through this lunatic doctrine? By claiming that “Jehovah God knows what is best for us”? Well clearly the Governing Body members don’t, or if they do, they simply ignore it since they know full well they’d be slapped with numerous lawsuits by family members who had to bury husbands, wives, siblings, parents or children due to the ban on blood transfusions over the years.

        And if YOU are an honest person, you need to admit that what the Governing Body claims to be true today, tomorrow may be proved false.

      • Lydia

        The Watchtower has been flip-flopping for years. They claim to be God’s spokesperson, but are they really? The Watchtower has been saying that the end will come in 1914, 1915, 1917, 1923, 1975 and nothing has come of it.

        “You may say to yourselves, How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed” (Deuteronomy 18:22).

  2. Tooty Christo

    Dear Elder Lee,

    I am still waiting for your response to my detailed e-mail, but I think you guys miss critical points when you argue that blood transfusions are not meals! This argument is besides the point and completely irrelevant when we consider the reason the creator provided for prohibiting eating blood: namely that “the life or soul of every flesh is in its blood” (Leviticus 17:11a & 14). When you eat food or drink some liquid at least some processed components (through our digestive system) of whatever you eat end up in our blood, don’t they (this is the main point)? if blood or any of its components is transfused it also ends up in our blood, does it? If eating blood results in some components of foreign blood coming in contact with our blood, and transfusion also results in some components of foreign blood coming in contact with our blood, then the results are the same especially when the reason the creator provided for prohibiting blood is considered!!!!! The creator simply does not want any two lives to be mixed up!!!end of story! Do not promote such mixing of lives or souls. Jehovah takes exception to that. I think the WTS focused too much on the spiritual significance of blood and did not convey this key reason why the creator does not want blood to be eaten or transfused!!!! And that is why you attack the WTS.

    • Marvin Shilmer

      Dear Tooty Christo,

      The text of cite of Leviticus 17 presents God’s reason why Jews under Mosaic Law were required to abstain from eating blood, and why they had to waste blood onto the ground by pouring out blood of slaughtered animals. These and other requirements under Mosaic Law were unique and went far beyond what God required of any non-Jewish worshippers of his. Think of men like Job and Cornelius. Both these men worshipped God and their worship was accepted by Him. Though both these men worshipped God neither was bound by God to meet requirements unique to Mosaic Law. But when it came to blood both these men were accountable to abide by the Noachian Decree of Genesis 9 where Noah was given some instruction about life of animals and humans.

      Noah was told if he wanted to use a living animal as food that he had to kill it first and he could not eat the blood of the animal he killed as food. Of human life Noah was told that unjustified manslaughter was punishable by death, which meant killing murderers was justifiable. Other than this Noah was not prohibited from using blood as though doing so would be robbing God.

      Particularly we don’t find anything whatsoever in the Noachian Decree that remotely addresses blood of animal carcasses dead of natural cause. Hence there was no requirement for Noah to abstain from eating unbled flesh of such carcasses. Notably, in the immediate pre-flood period Noah was given permission gather “every sort of food eaten” to use as food for himself and animals on the ark. (Gen. 6:21) One sort of food eaten since creation is carcasses of animals dead of natural cause. This sort of food was freely available and preparing it for storage and later consumption was done the same as with vegetation: it was dried.

      We know that ancient peoples gathered and used carrion animal meat (meat of animals dead of natural cause) as food because the Bible describes this. (Deut. 14:21) The same text is revealing about God own standard of right and wrong aside from Mosaic Law. Deuteronomy 14:21 is an instance where God provided for unbled flesh of animals found dead to be either given or sold to non-Jewish descendants of Noah and this was specifically for purposes of using this unbled flesh as food to eat. Men like Job and Cornelius could have bought unbled meat like this and eaten it as a provision from God and not have been in conflict with what God required of righteous Noah. This is because Noah was given no instruction that addressed eating unbled flesh of animals found dead as though doing so would be wrong in God’s eyes for him.

      Of course, later on God placed Jews under additional requirements in respect to blood. In the case of Jews under Mosaic Law we find two very unique requirements that Noah was not placed under, each of which related to blood. First, Jews under Mosaic Law were required to kill animals and present the blood of those animals in sacred atonement sacrifices to God. There is no record that Noah was ever required to use blood in sacred atonement sacrifice. Second, other than using blood in sacred sacrifices Jews were instructed to waste blood onto the ground by pouring it out like water into the dirt. There is no record that Noah was ever required to waste blood out onto the ground by pouring it out like water into the dirt. When Noah killed an animal as food he was only required to abstain from eating that blood; he was not required to abstaining from using that blood for other purposes as though doing so would be robbing God.

      When it comes to transplantation of blood you should not overlook that ancient peoples recognized medicinal benefits of doing this yet there is nothing said to Noah against the practice, with the sole exception of eating blood of slaughtered animals. So, for instance, Noah could have transplanted some xenogeneic blood onto the open wound of a moderate free-bleeder to help form a clot to help the wound heal. It is inconceivable that Noah could have thought of this topical transplantation of blood as “eating,” so we have no reason to think Noah would have refrained from this medicinal use of blood despite that the act would cause a comingling of blood.

      Getting back to the Noachian Decree, it is important to consider what the text addresses so we don’t transpose ideas onto the text that the text does not address. For example, we don’t find anything in the Noachian Decree speaking to donor blood. This is important to recognize because contemporary transfusion medicine used donor blood and not blood taken by assault. This raises the question of whether it is moral to donate blood to help save a life. In the Noachian Decree we do find a metaphorical use of “blood” for “life”. When Jesus walked the earth he instructed his followers that donating their life to save a life was moral. If we can donate our life to save a life then why can’t we donate our blood to save a life? Our life belongs to God. Right? Yet we have explicit permission to donate our “life” in order to help save a life. If we think of life as “property” and its owner as God then we have God’s permission to use our life to save life by donating it for that purpose. In the metaphorical perspective of “blood” for “life” this would mean what we have permission to do with our life we likewise have permission to do with our blood.

      • Lydia

        You missed the point! When mother’s milk passes from mother to child, she is passing her blood to baby. When the Israelites were slaughtered in the desert for eating fowl without bleeding it, it was because they showed disrespect for blood, it was not an emergency. However, when after a battle the Israelites were so starving that they slaughtered animals and ate along with the blood, it was an emergency. Jehovah forgave them. When a person needs blood in an emergency, it is a matter of conscience, not a disfellowshipping condemnation. It is clearly not the Watchtower’s business to interfere.

  3. Thirdwitness

    Scientific finding: “Litter-mate pups maintained for 99 days on intravenous plasma as the only source of protein, achieve a gain in height and weight equal to, if not exceeding, that of their litter fellows receiving the same quantity of horsemeat and liver by mouth.”— Allen JG, Stemmer E, Head LR: Similar growth rates of litter mate puppies maintained on oral protein with those on the same quantity of protein as daily intravenous plasma for 99 days as only protein source. Ann Surg 144:349–354, 1956.

    Also a person starving for the nutrient iron can often times stave off dying from that starvation by getting a transfusion of blood or red blood cells.

    Noah was told that meat could serve as food but blood could not. The scientific fact is that intravenous blood will provide nutrients thus food. Just because it may not provide as much nutrition as glucose infusions does not mean it provides no nutrition, The claim that transfused blood does not provide nutrition is bogus.

    Looks like intravenous blood really can be used to feed nutrients to a creature.

    • Lee Elder

      Blood proteins like albumin and hemoglobin have the potential to serve as food in the body when transfused. It bears noting they are not generally used this way, although there have been some situations where albumin has been occasionally used in this manner. Your argument in this regard becomes unsupportable when you consider that Watchtower policy has permitted the use of albumin for decades, and hemoglobin since 2001. Additionally, iron is a mineral, it is not food. You can have an iron deficiency and be in need of iron, but it does not function as food or fuel to power the cells in your body. Only carbohydrate, fat and protein can be categorized as food.

  4. Thirdwitness

    So you ask: “Blood Transfusion–Is It a Meal?”

    While the question is meant to prejudice the reader and make it appear that the WT publishers are just plain ignorant of scientific facts, the actual answer to the question is a resounding yes. Why?

    Because a meal supplies a body with nutrient/nourishment/nutriment/food and this is exactly what a blood transfusion does thus acting as a “meal” acts and in some cases providing many more nutrients than one meal.

    • Lee Elder

      A food truck driving down the street can be filled with food to deliver to the grocery store. This does not make the truck food. The truck is transporting food. It is similar with blood, it is a vehicle for delivering food (carbohydrate, protein and fat), water, oxygen, minerals, vitamins, enzymes, etc. Physicians do not prescribe a blood transfusion to treat malnutrition. Indeed, if they did the patient would die because no meaningful nutrition would be conferred. Instead, physicians prescribe blood to replace something your body has lost or is missing. Watchtower policy approves the use of many of these various transfusions, but denies others with no clear Biblical basis. Could a person “sustain” his life with blood providing nutrition? The answer is yes, but it would required eating and digesting the blood, to break it down into a format that can be absorbed by the intestines.

  5. Thirdwitness

    So as you see, transfusing/transplanting blood/kidneys is like eating blood/kidneys by mouth in several ways but NOT in the method of administration. And it is the literal eating by mouth of human kidneys that is a dfing offense not because it may provide nutrients/nourishment or is taken in to the body or the bible says to abstain from kidneys but rather because it is illegal, criminal, often spiritistic, and abhorrent to civilized men.

    On the other hand, the bible does say abstain from blood thus there is no inconsistency on our part. There is only false equivocation on the part of opposers.

    • Lee Elder

      Analogies and illustrations are tools that can be helpful in understanding or visualizing abstract or complex subject matters. They have their limitations, and can take a person on a detour to side issues, away from the primary purpose or subject they are intended to simplify. The purpose of this analogy was simply to illustrate that since a blood transfusion is in fact an organ transplant, the blood ban made more sense between 1967-1980. It accomplishes that limited purpose. None of this, however, alters the fact that the requirement for first century Gentiles to “abstain from blood”, can not logically be extended to transfusion in our view. This is the same position taken by both Orthodox Jews who are infinitely familiar with the Torah/Mosaic Law; as well as every major Biblical scholar. To point out these facts does not make one an “opposer” in the Scriptural sense. If you find the Watchtower’s evolving blood policy compelling, and wish to believe and follow it, you should by all means do so.


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