Jehovah's Witnesses...Organs, Yes; Blood, No?
February 28, 2014 9:28 AM   Subscribe

When I read this story recently about two sisters who received lung transplants from the same donor, I was a bit taken aback. Can someone who is a Jehovah's Witness please explain why accepting a blood transfusion is not okay for a JH, but having someone else's entire organ inserted into and attached to one's own body is? It just seems counterintuitive, since someone else's blood would eventually be purged by the body's own regenerative/filtering systems, but an organ, once attached, is...well, permanent. Please advise, if you know. I genuinely want to understand. Thanks.
posted by Sal Monella to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have a comprehensive knowledge, but a quick search shows that the prohibition about blood is specifically about blood, based on a belief that "...those who respect life as a gift from God do not try to sustain life by taking in blood". It's not about having other people's stuff inside you, it's specifically about blood.
posted by brainmouse at 9:34 AM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah, (based on a quick google) it is what it is. Specifically no blood, based on some long-ago interpretation of Bible. Like how some Jews won't turn on a light during Shabbat but will use a light that was turned on before sundown Friday or some Amish don't have a phone in their house but will use the pay phone down the street. It doesn't make sense to a non-practitioner, but it does to a practitioner because they are following the rules of their faith as they understand them and that's what matters.
posted by 0 at 9:43 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not a JW, and I'll be really interested to hear what someone actually knowledgable about this has to say, but in my vague understanding of the blood taboo, I think it is based on a belief that a creature's blood is it's life force (hence the term life-blood). If you believe this, it's not too hard to understand the difference between a blood transfusion and an organ transplant: The organ is a dependent part in the mechanics of the body - dependent on blood to keep it alive. On the other hand, to have someone else's blood injected into your own body would be to inject that person's life force into your own being. It would be too close to a soul transfusion to be acceptable.
posted by JanewayJunior at 9:54 AM on February 28, 2014

Is it possible to get an organ transplant w/o a blood transfusion?
posted by mulligan at 10:01 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is what they have to say on their site. I was raised in a JW household -- but have never been a JW -- and it is totally based on their (strange in my personal opinion) interpretation of the bible.
posted by Lescha at 10:02 AM on February 28, 2014

The scriptural passages they draw on have to specifically with blood, not the problems of having other people's body parts inside you. Specifically they cite to Genesis 9:4 ("But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood," Leviticus 17:10 ("I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people"), Deuteronomy 12:23 ("Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh."), and Acts 15:28-29 ("It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things").

The first three passages read, to me, to be about blood as life-force, and the fourth I believe is about abstaining from things that relate to pagan worship, but I could be wrong there. In any event, it's the specific scriptural passages, taken with an understanding that blood transfusions amount to "eating" blood, that underlie the prohibition, and that wouldn't apply to an organ transplant.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:03 AM on February 28, 2014

If the prohibition is against blood specifically, than at its core, it is likely a prohibition against magical ritual practices involving blood and blood sacrifice.

I doubt it would be identified as such by a practitioner, because "blood magic" isn't mainstream these days (at least overtly, heh) but this is the history of this type of prohibition.

It's basically a way to keep regular people from doing magic ritual and an instruction for them to leave that to the church representatives, only.
posted by jbenben at 10:05 AM on February 28, 2014

Here is a short summary about organ transplantation and Jehovah's Witnesses.

The tl;dr is that some JW interpretations do prohibit organs as well as blood, but since 1980 The Watchtower has stated that organ transplantation, so long as it does not require blood transfusion, is an individual choice. Organs have been transplanted into JW patients without transfusing blood, but there have been fatalities when patients develop post-op anemia (and will not treat with a transfusion).
posted by telegraph at 10:08 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was surprised that you can have a transplant without blood, too, but the article says "The sisters' situation was further complicated because they insisted on a "bloodless transplant.""
posted by soelo at 10:14 AM on February 28, 2014

I'm a Jehovah's Witness. Bulgaroktonos is correct. Our religion is a Bible-based religion and we all spend a lot of time studying it. In the Bible, blood is a symbol, a representation of something (i.e. life). In the Bible it is repeatedly mentioned as sacred to God, to be poured out on the ground rather than used for anything. Life belongs to God. This does not just apply to Jews under the Mosaic Law. It is a proscription given to Noah for all of his descendants (all humans) and again as one of the few to Christians who are not under law.

It's not because blood comes from another person (or animal, we don't eat bloody meat either) but because blood is sacred, or holy, representing the life God gave us. Semen comes from another person but that's okay considering all the Witness kids running around.

The Bible doesn't say anything about transplants and we don't have an issue with any other life-saving measures or with medicine in general.
posted by Danila at 12:29 PM on February 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

It's perfectly possible to do transplants without blood transfusions - in fact, we try to avoid transfusions as far as possible because of the risk of sensitisation. Autotransfusion is also an option for Witnesses as long as the blood is in continuous circulation.

I've also met JW patients who were fine with blood products such as albumin or platelets, just not packed red cells. Seems to depend on personal interpretation of the rule.
posted by tinkletown at 1:21 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I take care of patients with lung transplants. Most lung transplant recipients don't require blood transfusions (liver transplants though, not so much). That said, interestingly there is some residual donor blood carried within the lung graft itself. In fact, solid organ transplant recipients have been shown to develop microchimerism due to engraftment of donor white blood cells in the recipient that happened to come along as passengers for the ride. So donor blood cells are actually incorporated into the recipient in the process. Either the JW's don't know this, or more likely, they interpret the "ritual" of blood transfusion specifically to be the problem, and not so much the incidental passenger effect that comes with solid organ transplants. Remarkably, I have just learned that JWs actually accept peripheral stem cell and bone marrow transplants as well, despite the blood issue. So there appears to be a biblical semantic question around what they believe to constitute both "blood" and "transfusions."
posted by drpynchon at 6:09 PM on February 28, 2014

« Older Late 18th c. early 19th c. wedding at Trinity...   |   Does Home Depot rent flame throwers? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.