Organ Transplants

As with blood, the Watchtower Society (WTS) originally had no objections to organ transplants. In a Questions from Readers section in The Watchtower, Aug. 1, 1961, page 480, the question about organ transplants is answered pointedly:

“• Is there anything in the Bible against giving one’s eyes (after death) to be transplanted to some living person?—L. C., United States.

The question of placing one’s body or parts of one’s body at the disposal of men of science or doctors at one’s death for purposes of scientific experimentation or replacement in others is frowned upon by certain religious bodies. However, it does not seem that any Scriptural principle or law is involved. It therefore is something that each individual must decide for himself. If he is satisfied in his own mind and conscience that this is a proper thing to do, then he can make such provision, and no one else should criticize him for doing so. On the other hand, no one should be criticized for refusing to enter into any such agreement.”

In view of the unorthodox views on medical practices demonstrated by the WTS on earlier questions, it is not surprising that it found some “Biblical principles” addressing this question the next time it came up, in 1967:

“• Is there any Scriptural objection to donating one’s body for use in medical research or to accepting organs for transplant from such a source?-W. L., U.S.A.

. . . When there is a diseased or defective organ, the usual way health is restored is by taking in nutrients. The body uses the food eaten to repair or heal the organ, gradually replacing the cells. When men of science conclude that this normal process will no longer work and they suggest removing the organ and replacing it directly with an organ from another human, this is simply a shortcut. Those who submit to such operations are thus living off the flesh of another human. That is cannibalistic. However, in allowing man to eat animal flesh Jehovah God did not grant permission for humans to try to perpetuate their lives by cannibalistically taking into their bodies human flesh, whether chewed or in the form of whole organs or body parts taken from others.” (The Watchtower, Nov. 15, 1967, p. 702)

Most people would probably be surprised at the idea that an organ transplant is cannibalism, but the WTS argued that this was the case. And again, Jehovah’s Witnesses would have to toe the line. They should rather die or be crippled than accept an organ transplant, and for the next thirteen years, that is exactly what faithful brothers and sisters did. That is until the WTS changed their mind again about organ transplants.

As with the question of vaccinations, quack science was employed to support the idea that organ transplants were wrong. For the WTS, it has always been of primary importance to give us the idea that the rules really benefit us. And just as many Witnesses have been convinced and firmly believe that blood transfusions are evil and bad for them, they were exposed to the same sort of propaganda about organ transplants:

“A peculiar factor sometimes noted is a so-called ‘personality transplant.’ That is, the recipient in some cases has seemed to adopt certain personality factors of the person from whom the organ came. One young promiscuous woman who received a kidney from her older, conservative, well-behaved sister, at first seemed very upset. Then she began imitating her sister in much of her conduct. Another patient claimed to receive a changed outlook on life after his kidney transplant. Following a transplant, one mild-tempered man became aggressive like the donor. The problem may be largely or wholly mental. But it is of interest, at least, that the Bible links the kidneys closely with human emotions.” (The Watchtower, Sept. 1, 1975, p. 519)

In the same magazine, some health reports about certain risks in organ transplants are extrapolated to make it appear like the benefit is virtually zero and the risks are huge. We have seen this pattern in the WTS attempts to demonize vaccinations, we see it used on organ transplants and, as we will see later, it is especially evident in statements about blood transfusions.

An interesting motivation behind this view of organ transplants is a peculiar idea about the heart. Like the above article strongly suggested that a kidney transplant caused emotional change, the WTS argued that we do indeed think with our literal heart. When the Bible mentions heart as a seat for our deepest emotions and wishes, people will understand this symbolically, realizing that these things physically reside in the brain. Not so with leaders of the WTS.

“Most psychiatrists and psychologists tend to overcategorize the mind and allow for little if any influence from the fleshly heart, looking upon the word “heart” merely as a figure of speech apart from its use in identifying the organ that pumps our blood. . . . The heart is a marvelously designed muscular pump, but, more significantly, our emotional and motivating capacities are built within it. Love, hate, desire (good and bad), preference for one thing over another, ambition, fear-in effect, all that serves to motivate us in relationship to our affections and desires springs from the heart.” (The Watchtower, March 1, 1971, p. 134)

Some Witnesses will still remember a drama at the “Divine Name” convention the following summer on this topic, where the point that we really store information in our hearts was illustrated by giant, glowing, talking models of a heart and brain! Needless to say, JW’s with any understanding of science or medicine were deeply embarrassed by these teachings. This surely illustrates the danger of allowing men with such shallow reasoning based on quack science to decide life and death matters for a community of millions of JW’s.

This was not purely an academic question. The prohibition of organ transplants rested on this concept, which again had been important in the long-rejected ban on vaccinations. To instill fear in Witnesses against organ transplants and especially heart transplants, the following quack claims were reported:

“Medical World News (May 23, 1969), in an article entitled “What Does a New Heart Do to the Mind?” reported the following: “At Stanford University Medical Center last year, a 45-year-old man received a new heart from a 20-year-old donor and soon announced to all his friends that he was celebrating his twentieth birthday. Another recipient resolved to live up to the sterling reputation of the prominent local citizen who was the donor. And a third man expressed great fear of feminization upon receiving a woman’s heart, though he was somewhat mollified when he learned that women live longer than men. According to psychiatrist Donald T. Lunde, a consultant to surgeon Norman Shumway’s transplant team at Stanford, these patients represent some of the less severe mental aberrations [italics ours] observed in the Shumway series of 13 transplants over the last 16 months.” The article continues: “Though five patients in the series had survived as of early this month, and four of them were home leading fairly normal lives, three of the nonsurvivors became psychotic before they died last year. And two others have become psychotic this year.”” (The Watchtower, March 1, 1971, p. 134)

The idea that a person would have his personality changed by a new organ was also, as we remember, used to support the vaccination ban. And as we will see later, the same idea is used to increase the anti-blood hysteria among JWs. When the WTS argued the dangers of organ transplants, this quack science was again applied:

“It is significant that heart-transplant patients, where the nerves connecting the heart and brain are severed, have serious emotional problems after the operation. The new heart is still able to operate as a pump, it having its own power supply and timing mechanism independent of the general nervous system for giving impulse to the heart muscle, but just as it now responds only sluggishly to outside influences, the new heart in turn registers few, if any, clear factors of motivation on the brain. To what extent the nerve endings of the body and the new heart are able to make some connections in time is not clear, but this cannot be ruled out as one of the several factors causing the serious mental aberrations and disorientation that doctors report are observed in heart-transplant patients.” (The Watchtower, March 1, 1971, p. 135)

In the same article, the WTS even argued that people who accepted donor hearts lost their personalities, and more than hinted that people who had donor hearts were really heartless!

“These patients have donor-supplied pumps for their blood, but do they now have all the factors needed to say they have a “heart”? One thing is sure, in losing their own hearts, they have had taken away from them the capacities of “heart” built up in them over the years and which contributed to making them who they were as to personality.”

The advice the WTS gave on day-to-day situations based on its literal understanding of heart and mind was sometimes unintentionally humorous:

“To illustrate, suppose the time comes when you must make a decision on buying a new suit or dress. First, the mind is confronted with certain facts. Perhaps older clothes are getting past their usefulness or there is a need for a change for some good reason. The heart comes very much into the picture too, as there is a desire at heart to look presentable. Heart and mind are in agreement that a new dress or suit be obtained. The mind now collects information on prices, quality, styles, and so forth, so that when you go shopping you have a pretty good idea which suit or dress should be purchased. But when you arrive at the store, there in the window is quite an eye-catcher, just waiting for the impulse buyer. It is not really practical for you; it involves much more money; it is rather extreme in styling; but how it tantalizes the heart! “It’s the heart’s delight!” Now what will be done? What decision will be made? Will it be a practical, reasoned-out one, or one according to this new desire of the heart? If you are not very careful, the heart will overwhelm the mind.” (The Watchtower, March 1, 1971, p. 140)

During the period organ transplants and blood transfusions were both prohibited, these things were often equated in the publications. In one case, when an anonymous JW who was a surgeon wrote his life story in the Awake! magazine, he wrote about the dangers of blood transfusions:

“It has been especially gratifying to me to see at firsthand evidence of the truthfulness of the Bible’s directives on blood. The medical profession itself has gradually come to appreciate that blood is not an innocuous lifesaver. Blood transfusion is now recognized as a dangerous procedure — as hazardous as any other organ transplant.” (Awake!, March 22, 1974, p. 21)

He also added:

“Today much is also made of the transplanting of various organs—kidneys, hearts, lungs and livers. . . . Because of what I have reason to believe is the Creator’s view of organ transplants, I have serious reservations as to their Scriptural propriety.” (ibid. p. 23)

Small notes in WTS literature not only told stories about the horrors on blood transfusions, but also gave the same strongly exaggerated accounts of the dangers of organ transplants. In many Awake! magazines, we find under the feature “Watching the World” notes like these:

“Transfusion Horror

• Two babies were infected with syphilis by blood transfusions at Germany’s Kiel University Clinic last year, reports Wiesbadener Kurier. Infection spread to the parents. Not knowing the source, at least one of the families involved threatened to break up, each partner accusing the other of being unfaithful. Even though the truth came out in court, the damage was done. “Two people will have told one another things of which they would be ashamed when they learned the truth,” notes the article.

More Transplant Complications

• Recently it was reported that the incidence of cancer is 100 times greater among organ-transplant recipients than among the general population. However, the frequency of brain tumors is “about 1,000 times greater,” according to Dr. Wolff M. Kirsch, of the University of Colorado Medical Center. The prolonged immunosuppressive therapy to prevent rejection of the new organ frequently entangles the patient “in a snare of pathological processes,” he says. Prospects for helping such patients are considered “bleak.”” (Awake!, Feb. 22, 1974, pp. 30-31)

It certainly appears that the WTS writers search newspapers and magazines all over the world for these articles, and would of course never give a single reference to positive results of blood transfusions or organ transplants as long as these are prohibited.

This ban on organ transplants could not be sustained in the long run. The direct cause for the change is not given, the WTS merely states that it is “a matter for conscientious decision by each one.”

“• Should congregation action be taken if a baptized Christian accepts a human organ transplant, such as of a cornea or a kidney?

Regarding the transplantation of human tissue or bone from one human to another, this is a matter for conscientious decision by each one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some Christians might feel that taking into their bodies any tissue or body part from another human is cannibalistic. . . . Other sincere Christians today may feel that the Bible does not definitely rule out medical transplants of human organs. . . . It may be argued, too, that organ transplants are different from cannibalism since the “donor” is not killed to supply food.” (The Watchtower, March 15, 1980, p. 31)

Again, as had happened when the ban on vaccinations had been lifted, there was not one word of apology to those who had been adversely affected. Also, the WTS is hypocritical when it pretends that “sincere Christians may feel” anything but what they have been told to feel. As with the blood prohibition, “sincere Christians” are not free to feel, they are only “free” to do exactly what the WTS tells them to do. When individual JWs risked their lives they did it because they were ordered to do so under threat of being disfellowshipped, and because they believed the WTS spoke for God. We must ask, did Jehovah God change his mind on these matters, or was the society simply wrong?

After the reversal the horror stories about organ transplants ceased, while exaggerated reports on the dangers of blood transfusions continue to this day. With respect to organ transplants, the WTS’ change of heart is shown in this article:

“Bloodless Heart Transplant

Last October, three-year-old Chandra Sharp was admitted to a hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A., with a heart that was not only enlarged but also failing. She was undernourished, her growth stunted, her weight only 19 pounds [9 kg], and she needed a heart transplant. She was given only a few weeks to live. Her parents agreed to the transplant but not to blood transfusion. They are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

This was no issue with the surgeon, Dr. Charles Fraser. The Flint Journal of Michigan reported on December 1, 1993: “Fraser said the Cleveland Clinic and other medical centers are becoming adept at performing many surgeries—including transplants—without the infusion into the patient of other people’s blood. ‘We have learned more about how to conserve blood, and how to prime the heart-lung machine with solutions other than blood,’ said Fraser.” He then added: “Some specialty hospitals have for decades been doing major cardiovascular operations without blood transfusions. . . . We always try to do surgery without (transfused) blood.”” (Awake!, May 22, 1994, p. 7)

In light of the earlier ban on organ transplants – heart transplants in particular – this sudden praise of bloodless heart transplants drips irony. For doesn’t the heart do more than just pump blood? No, this was changed ten years earlier:

“What are we to understand, then, by the word ‘heart’?. . . . What an amazing number of different functions and capabilities are ascribed to the heart! Do all of these reside in the literal heart? That could hardly be so. . . . in nearly a thousand other references to ‘heart’ in the Bible, ‘heart’ is obviously used in a figurative sense. . . . obviously, a distinction must be drawn between the heart organ and the figurative heart.” (The Watchtower, Sept. 1, 1984, pp. 3-7)

In an another ironic twist, we see that less than two years later, the same magazine states:

“The ancient Egyptians believed that the physical heart was the seat of intelligence and the emotions. They also thought that it had a will of its own. The Babylonians said that the heart housed the intellect as well as love. The Greek philosopher Aristotle taught that it was the seat of the senses and the domain of the soul. But as time passed and knowledge increased, these views were discarded. Finally the heart became known for what it is, a pump to circulate the blood throughout the body.” (The Watchtower, June 1, 1986, p. 15)

The article did not remind the reader that the WTS had taught the same as these ancients until just two years before. An inquiring JW who didn’t’remember this prohibition would never find out. The Watchtower Publications Index 1930-1985 is carefully edited to remove any mention of “organ transplants.” Please verify this for yourself. This embarrassing chapter in the Societies history was closed, and only the dead and wounded were left behind.


  1. Robert Perez

    Can the WTS be sued if they expel or shun a Jehovah’s Witnesses for accepting one o the 4 major components of blood? I think that its unfair that someone who has been baptized for over 40 years is expelled due to the confusing blood regulations the WTS follows. I want to know because I want to tale action against the policy if possible.

  2. Barbara

    I need to no from the watchtower or awake tell me if a Jehovah witnesses can have an organ transplant say a kidney .I looked it up under Ajwrb.organ-transplants.they say it is up to that person is that right or wrong.i really would like to know I have to let the Dr.know to put my name on the list by 5:23,17.your dear the midcity con.

    • Lee Elder

      That is correct. Watchtower has given individual JWs permission to have organ transplants since 1980. You can verify this with WT publications, local elders or by contacting WT directly:

    • Ben

      From the very first-time organ transplants were mention in 1967, it was a personal decision.

      The Watchtower article that discussed this matter talked about various Bible principles that one may want to consider but the last paragraph said

      “They can consider the divine principles recorded in the Scriptures and use these in MAKING PERSONAL DECISION as they look to God for direction, trusting him and putting their confidence in the future that he has in store for those who love him”

  3. Rory Sullivan

    You said: “The Watchtower Publications Index 1930-1985 is carefully edited to remove any mention of “organ transplants.” Please verify this for yourself.”

    But I was very quickly able to look under “Transplanting” and find the relevant articles from both 1967 and 1980. Whether the references were once removed and have now been restored, I cannot say. I can only say that I found them easy to find in Watchtower Library 2017 Edition.

    Also, the 1967 piece doesn’t read, to me, as a ban on organ transplants. Undoubtedly it is extremely heavy-handed and puts a weighty load on the shoulders of anyones faced with this decision. It is quite plain in its opinion as to how a Christian ought to decide – but it still left it as a matter of individual conscience.

    Twelve years later the question arose, “Should congregation action be taken…?” and they merely ease up on their position while still managing to use the word “cannibalistic.”

    It is a prime example of the Organisation’s cruel manipulation of its members thinking abilities and its crafty use of words that allows for future plausible deniability. But I feel on less sure ground when I think about using this period as an example of the Organisation’s bloodguilt.

    • Lee Elder

      I would imagine that is an attempt to respond to our criticism Rory. Having lived through the period (I was baptized in 1969), I can assure you that the rank and file understood that accepting an organ transplant was viewed as seriously as taking blood was. In fact, likening it to cannibalism put it on the same plane as murder. No question in my mind that most congregations would have taken judicial action against a member who had one. Here is an example of the bloodguilt:

          • Witness

            Are there more stories like it? I want to read it!

          • Lee Elder

            I am quite sure there are more stories like it. The issue is complex and requires people to come forward and disclose private details, and/or risk severe scrutiny from congregation elders. I can recall another incident in the congregation where I attended involving an elder in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s. He was told he needed a cornea transplant. The other elders cautioned him against it. He decided to write the Watchtower Society Service Department, and was eventually told that it would be left up to him. It was considered very controversial at the time.

        • Blr

          This was an excellent article brother, my family has been through the blood issue five times. Studied in 1970 and baptized in 1972, I personally went through this once at the age of 27. Two of our children lost their lives for refusing blood, one at the age of two months ( she didn’t have much of a chance of survival, had no choice in the matter even though blood was given to her under a court order) and our youngest son who had gone through the blood issue three times died in 2008 at the age of 31.
          I do understand your reasoning and appreciate the copy of the articles you presented from the 60s to the 80s my question is, why would we have to finally say in 1980 that no disciplinary action would be taken against someone who decided to accept a transplant, if disciplinary action was never an threat or had never been taken?

  4. Andrea

    How many JW’s died in the world for the WTS transplants prohibition?


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