Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood (rsv).
This is the first of several Scripture verses that Jehovah’s Witnesses use to argue in support of the Watchtower Society’s ban on blood transfusions. The organization teaches that a blood transfusion is the same as eating blood, because it resembles intravenous feeding. The Society accordingly prohibits blood transfusions for its followers. A Witness who accepts a transfusion can expect to be summoned before a judicial committee to be put on trial behind closed doors for violation of “God’s law.” The punishment, if found guilty, is “disfellowshiping,” whereby the individual is shunned by family and friends who are forbidden even to greet the offender.
Jehovah’s Witnesses feel very strongly about this issue. They will die rather than accept a transfusion to replace blood lost in an operation or accident. And they follow this same course with respect to their minor children. Most Witnesses carry a signed card in their wallet or purse, stating their refusal to accept blood and instructing emergency personnel not to administer a transfusion if the Witness is found unconscious. The card is a legal document, signed by the JW and countersigned by two others.
JWs recognize that they are unique among religious people in their stand on blood transfusions, although it does not occur to them that this very fact shows that the doctrine does not really derive from the Bible. No one else who attempts to follow the Bible as a guide in life has come up with a ban on transfusions—and even the Watchtower organization did not promulgate the doctrine until 1944.
Most Jehovah’s Witnesses are unaware that their leaders have had a history of introducing other medical prohibitions and then later changing their mind. In 1967, for example, they prohibited organ transplants. Followers were expected to choose blindness rather than accept a cornea transplant, or to die rather than submit to a kidney transplant. But then, in 1980, the leaders reversed the teaching and allowed transplants once again (see The Watchtower, 11/15/67, pp. 702–704; Awake! 6/8/68, p. 21; and The Watchtower, 3/15/80, p. 31). In addition, between the years 1931 and 1952, JWs had to refuse vaccinations for themselves and their children because the organization taught them: “Vaccination is a direct violation of the everlasting covenant that God made … ” (The Golden Age, 2/4/31, p. 293).
Even though Witnesses will attempt to quote Scripture to support their position on blood transfusions, the real reason for their stand is blind obedience to the Watchtower Society. If the organization lifted its prohibition tomorrow, Witnesses would freely accept transfusions—just as they did an about-face when the vaccination ban was lifted in 1952 and when the ban on organ transplants was rescinded in 1980.
See also the discussions of Leviticus 7:26–27 and Acts 15:28–29.