It was reported this week that the refusal of Jehovah's Witnesses to receive blood transfusions recently killed 18 people in Russia -- people whose lives could have been saved, according to doctors.
Just how many Jehovah's Witnesses die worldwide because they refuse to have blood transfusions is not known, since these deaths go unreported due to confidentiality rules. What we do know is that most -- if not all -- Jehovah's Witnesses would prefer to die rather than receive a blood transfusion that could extend their lives.
Jehovah's Witnesses refuse to have blood transfusions -- or to allow their children to have them -- because they believe blood transfusions are a violation of God's law.
They base this belief on several passages in the Bible which they claim forbid this practice. For example, one such Bible passage states: "Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood" (Genesis 9:4).
Critics of this Jehovah's Witnesses belief argue that there is a difference between eating blood, which mistreats the life of the animal, and receiving a life-giving blood transfusion. In fact, even ultra-Orthodox Jews, who observe the Old Testament kosher laws, recognize that blood transfusions are not prohibited by the command not to eat blood.
On the other hand, some blood transfusions have resulted in death, usually due to infections or transfusion reactions. Unfortunately, reliable statistics on the number of deaths caused by blood transfusions do not exist.
Faced with this dilemma, what should Jehovah's Witnesses do when a blood transfusion could mean the difference between life and death? Should they accept death because blood transfusions are forbidden by their religion? Or can they accept a blood transfusion, because they believe that it is not prohibited by their interpretation of the command not to eat blood?
The answers to these questions must be determined by each individual Jehovah's Witness -- based on his conscience and on his own interpretation of the Bible passages relating to this practice.