Do Witnesses Have A Choice Regarding Blood?
The WTS (Watch Tower Society) argument that JWs exercise free choice in the matter of blood transfusions is very much a matter of opinion. The Bible says nothing directly about blood transfusions, so WTS policy makers must admit that their claim that the Bible includes blood transfusions in the statement in Acts 15, "abstain from blood," is purely their own interpretation, and therefore a matter of policy which can be changed. The WTS teaches that its policies generally are a product of "divine direction", so that JWs believe that their blood policy is actually God's policy. To go against "divine direction" would clearly be against Christian principles. The WTS has often changed policy, especially in the area of medical practices. Since it is unlikely that God changes his mind about acceptable medical practices, it is clear that WTS policy is not necessarily God's policy. Therefore JWs are faced with the choice of deciding whether WTS policy is in reality a product of infallible "divine direction" or fallible human reasoning.
It is generally accepted that a truly free choice must be based on full information. If an adult is given full information about the WTS blood policy when he joins, in that he is presented with all relevant arguments for and against the policy, and understands fully that the policy may or may not be the product of divine direction, then his choice can be said to be free. However, if he is not given full information, then he can hardly be said to have made an informed choice. Someone who contemplates joining a company may well make a different choice if he is given a full history of the company than if he is given only a glowing sales brochure.
Anyone who looks at the information given to people when they join the JWs will quickly see that it is very one-sided. The new recruit is simply told that "the Bible says abstain from blood, which obviously means not taking it into your body in any way." He is not told that the WTS no longer teaches that taking a blood transfusion is the same as eating blood. He is not told about previous changes in related medical policies, such as reversing the policies that once claimed that the Bible condemned vaccinations and organ transplants. Since new JWs are not generally given this full information about the WTS's history of changes in medical policy, and the many changes in its blood policy, they cannot make a fully informed, and therefore truly free choice.
This lack of a truly free choice is especially relevant when children who are raised as JWs contemplate formally joining the religion. Clearly, joining a religion that excommunicates and shuns members who violate certain policies should be done only by someone who possesses adult abilities to choose. The JWs allow children to formally join their religion by performing the ceremony of water baptism. Children as young as eight years have so joined, and it is common for children in their young teenage years to join in this way. Very often children change their outlook drastically as they mature into adults, especially as they acquire more information on the choices that face them as adults. Holding an adult to a decision made as an immature child is simply criminal, especially in the case of disfellowshiping and shunning a young adult for conscientiously deciding against the JW blood policy when he gains full knowledge of all of the issues. The shunning required on the part of his relatives and former friends can be psychologically devastating.
The JWs actually have two independent arguments that they say allows them to shun members who make a conscientious decision to renounce the blood policy. One is that any organization has the right to make policies that members who join must follow. There is no problem with this as long as full disclosure of the policies is made before a potential member commits himself. The other is that it is not the JW organization that makes the shunning policy, but God himself. But this argument can logically be applied only in a situation where God has made a clear statement. Since the JWs do not receive clear statements directly from God, but only read what they believe are God's statements in the Bible, the Bible can be the only source of what they would call God's statements. But since the Bible says nothing about blood transfusions, it cannot be claimed that God has said anything about them. What the JWs do is mix up these two arguments in such a way that it is difficult for the average person to untangle them.
Untangling the WTS's arguments is difficult since JWs are taught that WTS leaders, in some mysterious and unexplained fashion, speak for God so that all organizational policies are taught as if they were directly from God rather than the opinions of fallible men. The idea that a person who doesn't like an organizational policy and can simply leave is immensely complicated by the fact that for a JW to leave the organization may well mean being shunned by his family and friends. This may not be a major obstacle to leaving for someone who joined as an adult, but for someone who joined as an immature child it can mean the loss of virtually his entire social structure. This is what Watchtower spokesmen fail to tell their listeners.
Is Blood FORBIDDEN
Among Jehovah's Witnesses?
Revisions on the Blood Issue
Blood and the Law of God
Critique of Transfusion-Free Medicine
Jehovah's Witnesses and the Rh Factor
Shunning:A Part of the Faith of Jehovahs Witnesses
Just Up the Hill A Ways by Gary Busselman