The current application of certain Bible texts, notably Acts 15:28,29, to support a blood prohibition for Christians was not shared by Charles Taze Russell, founder of the WTS. In a commentary about the apostolic council of Acts 15, Russell said:
“He [James] further suggested writing to them merely that they abstain from pollutions of idols (verse 29), and from things strangled and from blood – as by eating such things they might become stumbling blocks to their Jewish brethren (See 1. Cor. 8:4-13) – and from fornication” (Zion’s Watch Tower, Nov. 15, 1892, p. 1473 reprints)
So even though blood transfusions were not yet in use, Russell was clear that he did not even consider the dietary law on blood as binding for Christians.
After Russell’s death the WTS gradually changed its view. The Watchtower of Dec. 15, 1927, page 371, hinted strongly that the “blood prohibition” in Genesis 9:4 applies to all men. Nevertheless, as long as only dietary law was being considered, this was not a controversial question.
A key to the development of the current blood doctrine was the appointment of Clayton J. Woodworth as editor of the Golden Age Magazine. Woodworth used the magazine as a voice to air his extraordinary personal views on science and medicine. It is here amidst the lunacy and paranoia we find the seeds of the WTS’ blood doctrine.
What follows is a brief outline of the modern-day historical developments:
1892 – The Watchtower’s first mention of the blood issue. Russell’s view was that the injunction at Acts 15 was a temporary measure to promote unity during the transition from the Jewish age to the Church Age (Watchtower 1/15, pp. 349-352).
1909 – Br. Russell comments on Acts chapter fifteen indicating his belief that observing the prohibition did not “MAKE THEM CHRISTIANS”, but served to preserve the body of Christians and Gentiles.(Watchtower 4/15/09, p. 4374)
1919 – Clayton J. Woodworth becomes editor of the Golden Age Magazine (Watchtower 2/15/52, p. 128)
1923 – An article entitled “The Vaccination Fraud” begins the Watchtower’s opposition to vaccination (Golden Age, 1/3, p. 211 #35). Sample quote: “When it has been shown conclusively that there is no such things as rabies.” (Golden Age, 4/22, p.455, #15).
1925 – The man who frequently donates blood for transfusion is commended. (Golden Age, 7/29, p. 683, #52).
1929 – Vaccinations are again condemned: “Thinking people would rather have smallpox than vaccinations, . . . Hence the practice of vaccination is a crime, an ourtrage and a delusion . . . it has never saved a single life” (Golden Age, 5/1, p. 502, #40).
1931 – Vaccinations are a violation of the Eternal Covenant God made with Noah. (Golden Age 2/4/31, p. 293)
1931 – The Society acknowledges that Genesis nine and the “Eternal Covenant” is not really about eating blood. “All reasonable minds must conclude that it was not the eating of the blood that God objected to, but it was bringing the blood of the beast in contact with the blood of man.” (Golden Age, 2/4, p. 294, #42).
1935 – Vaccination is a direct injection of animal matter in the blood stream and a direct violation of the law of Jehovah God. (Golden Age 4/24/35, p. 465) For seventeen years Witnesses refuse smallpox vaccination until the Society, after the death of Br. Woodworth, reverses the vaccination ban. As it turns out, the smallpox vaccine wasn’t even manufactured from blood. During this period, many cartoons appeared in the Golden Age magazine showing things like piles of pock-marked babies, damaged by vaccines. Other cartoons depicted “dope doctors” holding syringes labeled “puss.” Today we can scarcely imagine just how incredible of a situation developed around this issue. Children were not able to attend school without a vaccination certificate, Witnesses could not leave or enter countries, and Witnesses in prison were placed in solitary confinement.
It’s important to remember how serious a problem smallpox was at this time. In 1921 there were 100,000 cases of smallpox in the U.S. alone, with mortality as high as 40%. One can only wonder how many Witnesses suffered real physical harm or even death as a result of conforming to the Society’s ban on vaccination.
1940 – Report of a doctor donating a quart of his own blood during an emergency. It was portrayed as heroic (Consolation, 12/25, p. 19, #53).
1945 – Blood transfusions and blood products are officially banned as “pagan and God-dishonoring.” (Watchtower 7/1/45, p. 198-201)
1949 – Organ transplants are discussed as unobjectionable and “wonders of modern surgery.” (12/22/49 – “Spare Parts for Your Body”)
1951 – Clayton J. Woodworth, editor of the Golden Age/Consolation until it became Awake in 1946, passes away and is buried on December 18, 1951. (Watchtower 2/15/52, p. 128)
1952 – In a letter dated April 15, 1952, vaccinations, such as smallpox, are now officially allowed. Many Witnesses have already been taking them for a dozen years or so, and the Society has known that smallpox vaccination does not contain blood ever since being advised of this by a Witness named William Cetnar. It is certainly reasonable to speculate that the ban wasn’t officially lifted until 1952 out of respect for Clayton J. Woodworth who was so strongly opposed to vaccines. Watchtower 12/15/52 P. 764
1953 – “Vaccinations are no longer considered feeding on blood and no longer considered related to sex relations. (Make Sure, P. 48, #47).
1954 – Blood serums are wrong. “We are told that it takes one and a third pints of whole blood to get enough of the blood protein or “fraction” known as gamma globulin for one injection… its being made of whole blood places it in the same category as blood transfusions as far as Jehovah’s prohibition of taking blood into the system is concerned.”- Awake! 01/08/1954 p. 24
1958 – An answer to a “Questions From Readers” explains that an anointed sister should be allowed to partake of the emblems at the memorial if she has had a blood transfusion, reasoning that she is simply immature. (Watchtower 8/1/58, p.478)
1958 – Blood serums are OK. Important ruling on blood serums like diphtheria antitoxin and gamma globulin states that these may be used as a matter of personal judgment. (Watchtower 9/15/58, p.575)
1959 – Blood has to be poured out, therefore, it would be wrong to remove one’s own blood, store it and later put it back. (Watchtower 10/15/59, p. 640)
1961 – Accepting blood or a banned blood product is made punishable by disfellowshipping. (Watchtower 1/15/61, p. 63-64)
1961 – Organ donation is a matter of conscience. (Watchtower 8/1/61, p. 480)
1961 – Personality traits, the impulses to commit murder and suicide are transmitted in the blood. (Watchtower 9/15/61, p. 564)
1963 – Blood serums are wrong. 1958 ruling is overturned. Any fraction of blood is now considered as a nutrient and forbidden. Ruling does not apply to vaccines. (Watchtower 2/15/63, p. 124) Note: Published comments from the WTS in 1961 had created much confusion about blood serums.
1964 – Blood serums are OK. Just 21 months later the position reverses again! This is the fourth complete reversal in seven years. (Watchtower 11/15/1964 pp. 680-3) View our database of WTS published positions on blood serums.
1964 – Witness doctors may administer transfusions to non-Witness patients. (Watchtower 11/15/64, p.682)
1966 – Blood transfusion is referred to as cannibalism (Watchtower, 7/1, p. 401, #57).
1967 – Organ transplants are now cannibalism. This is another total reversal. Organ donation is now strongly advised against. (Watchtower 11/15/67, p. 702)
1971 – The heart is not just a pump, it is linked to the brain through nerves and is the actual organ where affections, motivations, desires and emotions are literally formed. (Watchtower3/1/71, p. 133-135)
1974 – Another complete reversal on blood serums. They are once again a matter that must be left for each individual conscience, though the article seems to be hinting that they are not such a great idea. (Watchtower 6/1/74, p. 352)
1975 – As to the treating of hemophilia with plasma factors the Society says of course, that true Christians do not use this treatment, heeding the Bibles command to abstain from blood. (Awake 2/22, p.30, #74).
1975 – Four months later a reversal. The Governing Body decides that blood fractions for Hemophiliacs are acceptable as a matter of conscience. Beginning in the early 1970’s brothers were told that they could accept a one time only treatment. Those phoning the Society after June 11th are told that they may make a personal decision about whether or not to use Factor VIII and IX. This policy will not become official for three more years, apparently because the governing body does not want to officially reverse itself so quickly. Those who have written about using factor VIII and IX are contacted directly by the society. Those who called by phone cannot be contacted and likely die.
1975 – Those who accept organ transplants and blood transfusions may suffer a personality transplant as well. (Watchtower 9/1/75, p. 519)
1977 – Blood transfusions are now considered organ transplants, and parents must be allowed to refuse blood transfusion for their children. ( Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood, p.41)
1978 – A softer position on serums. They are apparently not a method of “sustaining life.” Hemophiliacs now officially learn that may accept treatment with blood components or fractions, if they had called the Society they would already have learned this some 3 years before, if they didn’t call, then they were probably dead by then. Witnesses may use heart-lung machines if primed with non blood fluids. (Watchtower 6/15/78, p. 30-31)
1978 – Br. Arvid Moody dies for obediently supporting the Watchtower ban on organ transplants.
1980 – More “new light” on organ transplants. In a complete reversal, they are no longer to be considered cannibalism, and elders should not take judicial actions against a Witness who has one. (Watchtower 3/15/80, p. 31)
1980 – The Society is now setting up hundreds of HLC’s or Hospital Liaison Committees. Lists of sympathetic doctors are kept, and the committees will endeavor to circumvent doctors of social service agencies who try to intervene on behalf of minors.
1982 – The Society introduces its doctrine of major and minor blood components. Minor products are allowed, major ones are forbidden. Hemodilution is listed as objectionable. (Awake 6/22/82, p.25)
1984 – Bone marrow is discussed as a matter of conscience, but seems to be discouraged. (Watchtower 5/14/84, p. 31)
1984 – The Society quietly abandons the idea that literal heart is responsible for affections, motivations, desires and emotions. (Watchtower 9/1/84, p. 6)
1985 – AIDS is seized upon to give credibility to the Society’s position on blood. (Watchtower 6/15/85, p. 30)
1988 – AIDS has become a world-wide problem the Society frequently sites as proof of the correctness of their doctrine, and claims that their policy has protected Jehovah’s Witnesses from AIDS. They acknowledge that some 10,000 Americans with severe Hemophilia have been infected. What they fail to mention is that these individuals were infected because of treatment with Factor VIII and IX, which have been on the approved list for the past ten years or more. The Society’s position was no protection at all for these Witnesses. We estimate that several dozen Witnesses contracted AIDS in this manner. (Awake 10/8/88, p. 11)
1989 – The Society appears to open the door to some intraoperative autologous transfusions. Though not mentioned by name, it is implied that use of scavenging techniques are permissible. (Watchtower 3/1/89, p. 30,31)
1991 – Witnesses are encouraged to rehearse what answers they will give if questioned by a judge. (KM – 3/91)
1992 – The Society tells us not to be concerned about whether or not food contains blood unless we have good reason to suspect that it does. (Watchtower 10/15/92, p. 30)
1994 – “Youths Who Put God First” – Article about Witness youths who have died as a result of the blood prohibition. (Awake 5/22/94, p.3-15) Watchtower articles strongly implies that “thousands” of Jehovah’s Witness children have already died over their policy.
1994 – Discussion of RH factor (made from blood serum). Article states that “this journal and it’s companion have commented consistently on this matter.” (Awake 12/8/94, p.27) Note the RH injection was absolutely forbidden until 1974, and still discouraged until 1978. Witnesses who receive this type of blood transfusion are typed and receive the same identifying wrist ban as any other blood transfusion recipient.
1995 – A Witness may have his own blood transfused back into him under certain circumstances. Acute Normovolemic Hemodilution (ANH) and autologous blood salvage procedure (Cell Saver) are acceptable and involve brief storing of the blood outside of the body. (Watchtower 8/1/95, p. 30)
1997 – Elders encouraged to help and provide understanding for those who have accepted blood transfusions. In judicial cases elders will remember that love is the backbone of Christianity, and they will temper firmness with mercy. (Watchtower 2/15/97, p. 20)
1997 – Dan Sydlik, Governing Body member, fails to respond to a direct plea for assistance in reforming the blood issue. On February 23rd, the web site NEW LIGHT ON BLOOD, comes on line, and the reform movement begins to take shape.
1997 – The Watchtower Society allows a Jehovah’s Witness in Australia to accept a new therapy involving the transfusion of white blood cells. These are still listed as a prohibited blood product by the Watchtower. The procedure is called “autografting”, which sounds more like transplants than transfusion, and the setting of leukapheresis is for CD34+, rather than usual granulocyte.
1997 – A group of eight Jehovah’s Witness HLC (Hospital Liaison Committee) members and a handful of other Jehovah’s Witness elders being to regularly communicate. In June, AJWRB is born.
1997 – Mass mailings to Jehovah’s Witnesses begin in November.
1998 – A final plea is made directly to the Governing Body in March. Major medical journals begin to focus attention on the blood reform movement within the WTS and the ethical controversy grows. Foreign language versions of “New Light on Blood” begin to appear.
1999 – The WTS seeks to identify and disfellowship anyone connected with AJWRB.
1999 – AJWRB holds first major medical exhibit at the American College of Emergency Physicians conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.
2000 – In the spring, Circuit overseers in the United States receive a letter instructing them to inform local bodies of elder not to disfellowship anyone who accepts blood transfusions. If their conduct becomes known and they are deemed unrepentant, they will be considered to have disassociated themselves.
2000 – In June the Watchtower institutes sweeping reforms of its blood policy. “…when it comes to fractions of any of the primary components, each Christian, after careful and prayerful meditation, must conscientiously decide for himself.” This lays the foundation for members to accept oxygen carrying hemoglobin solutions. (Watchtower 6/15/00 p.29-31) Reports soon filter in from the media confirming the new policy on hemoglobin. In September it becomes evident that the WTS will permit the use of bovine hemoglobin.
2000 – In October the Journal of Medical Ethics publishes what amounts to a crushing defeat of the Watchtower’s position in the medical ethics community. These groundbreaking articles open the door to the larger medical community and give physicians tools to make meaningful interventions with their patients to establish informed consent.
2000 – AJWRB hosts a large exhibit at the American Society of Anesthesiologists convention in San Francisco, USA. in October.
2001 – In January the British Medical Journal (BMJ) publishes the article “Bioethical aspects of the recent changes in the policy of refusal of blood by Jehovah’s Witnesses”. The article is published online and extensive debate quickly ensues in the BMJ rapid response publishing system between WTS representatives and JW reformers.
2004 – The June 15th Watchtower expands on the June 15, 2000 article. For the first time, the rank and file Jehovah’s Witness learns that the single largest blood component (hemoglobin) is now permitted as a matter of personal choice. (Insiders and AJWRB members have known for four years. JW’s have been using Polyheme and Hemopure where available in clinical trials as well).