Copyright © 1998 Elsevier Ltd All rights reserved.

Jehovah's Witnesses and blood transfusions

Osamu Muramoto
Kaiser East Interstate Office, 3414 N Kaiser Center Drive, Portland, OR 97227, USA

The strict ban on blood transfusions and certain blood products by Jehovah's Witnesses poses a challenge to the medical community. The prevailing perception among the medical community is that Jehovah's Witnesses consistently and uniformly refuse blood-based treatment. Criticism of this doctrine among the dissidents and reformers has urged the medical community to re-evaluate their practice of accomodating this doctrine.1

The new development at the European Commission of Human Rights (ECHR) in March, 1998, has triggered further discord among members of this religion (, accessed on Aug 14). In the agreement established at the ECHR between the church organisation of Jehovah's Witnesses and the government of Bulgaria, the church claimed that the members now "should have free choice" to receive blood transfusions "without any control or sanction on the part of the association".

For many years, Jehovah's Witnesses who wilfully received blood transfusions and did not repent were denied fellowship and ostracised. This response is the harshest religious sanction of the religion. Since it was established, this public agreement has caused confusion inside and outside of the religious organisation. Some members viewed the agreement as a fundamental change in policy and believe they are now free to receive blood transfusions. However, the headquarters of the church organisation in New York swiftly denied any such change in a press release on April 27. How they could reconcile their position with the public agreement at the ECHR is unclear. On July 16, an information secretary of the church organisation confirmed in the Swedish newspaper Helsingborgs Dagblad, that they no longer deny fellowship to those members who receive blood transfusions.

Such confusion is of serious concern. There have been differing views on acceptance of the blood policy among Jehovah's Witnesses,1 but now there is obvious confusion among the leaders in the religion. If this confusion continues for much longer there will be important consequences including unintended withdrawal of necessary blood transfusions that may result in unnecessary death of patients. This religion has a history of similar delay in lifing the ban on haemophiliac treatment for several years in 1970s, during which time some of the members continued to refuse treatment not knowing the doctrinal change at the level of the headquarters. Prompt clarification by the church organisation with streamlined policy on the blood doctrine is urgently called for.


  1. O Muramoto, Bioethics of the refusal of blood by Jehovah's Witnesses: Part 1. Should bioethical deliberation consider dissidents' views?, J Med Ethics 24 (1998), pp. 223–230.