To donate or venerate: blood and religious faith

Times Online, UK/June 17, 2009

It is well known that Jehovah's Witnesses refuse blood transfusions, and also avoid consuming blood in meat. Paul Wade at the Jehovah's Witnesses UK office explained: "It's a biblical position that we take. The scriptures explain that blood is sacred.

"Jehovah's Witnesses don't accept blood transfusions of red cells, white cells, plasma and platelets, what is typically known as a blood transfusion. Witnesses wouldn't be blood donors. It's implicit really."

Deaths of Jehovah's Witnesses from refusing blood transfusions have stirred controversy. In 2004 it was reported that The Watchtower Society, the official body representing Jehovah's Witnesses, had announced a change in policy. It notified members that fractions of the cells as well as red blood cells without a membrane could be used according to a Witness's own conscience. Wade, however, said that nothing changed: "Former Jehovah's Witnesses claimed we took a different stance, which is simply not true. We don't accept primary components of blood, and that's always been our view."

He did say that Witnesses are not critical of those who do wish to donate blood. "We appreciate their stand. It's not that we're against that."

In the Jewish faith, the Torah forbids the consumption of blood and keeping kosher requires that meat is slaughtered in a method called shechita, with a single cut to the throat and a process of bleeding. A spokesperson from the Jewish Board of Deputies explained: "These are Jewish laws, not just traditions. From an orthodox perspective, they come from the bible and are considered laws that you can't rationalise. They are laws that you do because the bible says so and because you have a faith and belief in God."

For a Jewish person, giving blood, therefore, doesn't contradict any religious laws and Jon Benjamin, director general of the Board of Deputies of British Jews lent his full support to World Blood Donor Day. He said that a fundamental Jewish precept is to proactively save lives. "Blood donation is part of this ethos and many regular blood donation drives have taken place in Synagogues and other communal organisations around the UK for many years. The Jewish community wholeheartedly endorsed the necessity to create awareness for this years Blood Donor Day".

Anna-Marie Julyan is a freelance journalist and has recently completed a postgraduate journalism course at City University.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.