Saving a Thousand Lives a Year: Reforming Watchtower’s Policy on Blood – Part Two

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By 2017-09-18T05:18:18+00:00 on September 18th, 2017
Jehovah's Witnesses, Religious Extremism, Survivor Stories|8 Comments
Editor's Note: This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Saving a Thousand Lives a Year

The Watchtower strikes back

To counter the mounting criticism concerning internal judicial action for those who disagreed with the policy, the Watchtower “reformed” its policy, so that no one would be disfellowshipped by a judicial committee. This “procedural change” tried to put the blame for shunning entirely on the individual JW who chose to save his or her life (or the life of their child) instead of supporting the Watchtower’s irrational policy.

Now the the Watchtower announced that there would be no judicial committees formed if a JW accepted a blood product that the the Watchtower had forbidden. Rather, if the elders learned that a forbidden blood product was used, and two of the elders deemed the person not sincerely repentant, an announcement would be made to the congregation that the person had “disassociated” themselves: “They did it to themselves!” The reality was that nothing changed other than the words used to describe the policy. The person would be shunned and still worthy of spiritual and social death, but they had a “free choice”.

Indeed, under this new arrangement, individual rights for a JW were eliminated, as there is no appeal process for one who unilaterally “disassociates” themself. So, in thruth, the Watchtower ratcheted up the pressure on any JW who dared think for themself or make a free and informed choice regarding their medical care.

This “procedural change” was an attempt to deflect criticism that the Watchtower had perjured itself before the European Commission, and that disfellowshipping was a form of coercion used to inhibit free choice, thereby nullifying the presence of “informed consent”. It may have also served to reduce their legal liability in cases where death or disability occurred through observing Watchtower policy.

By this time, confused Hospital Liaison Committee (HLC) members, elders and congregation publishers were regularly contacting the Watchtower for clarification. Advocates for Jehovah’s Witness Reform on Blood (AJWRB) had cranked up enough pressure and media coverage that it became impossible to maintain two public standards, so after trying to calm the storm in the media, the Watchtower officially notified all HLC committees of the change in the disfellowshipping procedure.

In typical Orwellian fashion, note how the Watchtower explains “nothing has changed”. This, despite the fact they are no longer forming judicial committees, or formally disfellowshipping members. This is the sad reality of how the Watchtower spins, manipulates, and plays games with people’s lives.

I have come to believe that the Watchtower behavior is best understood in terms of a corporation seeking to protect its best interests and reputation. Preserve capital, limit liability, and deny responsibility at all cost.

Not exactly the picture that comes to mind when one thinks of “God’s organization” or the principle of Isaiah 32:2: “Each one will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.” Simply stated, the the Watchtower could care less about how many JW’s have to die for it to save face.

A Watchtower bombshell and watershed event

While the Watchtower’s posturing may have alleviated some of the concerns about its double standard with respect to Bulgaria at the European Commission on Human Rights, it did nothing to deflect the mounting criticism and inquiries related to the Watchtower’s irrational blood fraction policy.

In the June 15, 2000 issue of the the Watchtower, the groundwork for the most meaningful reforms in forty years was made. This issue reported that fractions of any of the primary components of blood are acceptable. In one fell swoop, JW’s could now, in good conscience, use not only plasma proteins, but also all blood fractions of red cells, white cells and platelets. This landmark change gave the green light to 100% use of blood – as long as it was in fractionated form.

blood fraction charts The Watchtower had taken a beating in the medical journals, and in an extensive debate that followed online in the discussion section of the British Medical Journal between Advocates for Jehovah’s Witness Reform on Blood (AJWRB) members and Watchtower representatives. The Watchtower simply had no answers as to why all components of plasma were permitted, yet everything else was banned. As the pressure mounted in 2000, it became obvious they would have to respond.

The momentum for change was clearly in place, and reports suggested that some governing body members wanted to make the issue a matter of conscience, and move on. The Watchtower even went so far as to print a new advance directive that would have permitted the use of stored autologous blood (that is, the person’s own blood, as opposed to “allogenic” blood – blood from someone else). Here is a copy of the document, and the key word was no allogeneic… or “no blood transfusions from another person”:

Allowing Witnesses to store their own blood would have been another major reform, and one that Ray Franz had felt was very reasonable. It appears it was only weeks away from being a reality, but then the Watchtower suddenly recalled all the new advance directives shortly after September 11, 2001. It has long been rumored that one of the more coercive members of the governing body influenced the others to believe the “great tribulation” was breaking out, and there would be no need to do anything further, as there was no time left for humanity.

What did the new blood fraction policy accomplish?

What did this latest blood fraction policy accomplish? It served to deflect the criticism they were receiving regarding the inconsistency of the plasma component policy, and it opened the door for the use of the largest single component of blood – hemoglobin, which is unique in its ability to carry oxygen. Too little of it, and anemia and death follow.

Watchtower leaders had the perfect opportunity to let go of their deeply flawed policy. Instead, they opted to go “all in” on Hemopure and Polyheme, hoping these experimental hemoglobin solutions would enable them to both save face and stop the mounting death toll. How did their huge gamble work out?

In the 17 intervening years, Polyheme has been abandoned and Hemopure is approved for use in just one country – South Africa – due to the HIV issues there. These blood products ended up having too many side effects to obtain FDA approval. However, Hemopure is still available under the FDA’s expanded access program and has been used under special circumstances on JW’s in the United States and Australia.

The current state of affairs

Pressure from AJWRB and the medical community has forced the Watchtower policy makers to be more forthcoming in educating JW’s regarding their options with the use of blood products. However, far too many JW’s continue to labor under the weight of misinformation that the Watchtower continues to publish on the risks of blood, and the efficacy of “non-blood alternatives”. While elective bloodless surgery has come a long way, it is not a panacea. The simple truth is there are no effective alternatives in many situations that JW’s face. Massive trauma, complications of childbirth, blood disorders like leukemia, as well as side effects of chemotherapy frequently require the use of red cells, white cells and platelets. When doctors are unable to prescribe them – avoidable death or serious disability often result.

A personal crisis for me and AJWRB

By 2006, I was struggling to deal with very serious health issues for my son, as well as for myself. Nine years of burning the candle at both ends had left me exhausted, and I took a step back from Advocates for Jehovah’s Witness Reform on Blood (AJWRB). We had strong leadership in place, with the website under the care of a Witness who had served as a Hospital Liaison Committee (HLC) member for many years. So, I felt confident the AJWRB website would continue to serve as an important resource for Witnesses and the medical professionals who treat them.

Around 2010 or 2011, this Witness lost touch with me and slowly began to burn out. He recognized the importance of keeping AJWRB resources available, so he asked Randy Watters, a well-known ex-JW, to take over management of the site.

Randy decided to take the site in a slightly different direction, and hired a former JW to do some “retooling”. Almost immediately they began having problems, and I let Randy, who I had known since 1997, know about my concerns. A year later, Randy was also burning out and asked me to take the site back, which I did in 2012.

A new leadership team was selected and we began updating the site, adding a time-line, and so on. Thankfully, all the original files were still available for us to work with. We briefly hosted it on a server owned by Biblical Research & Commentary – one of the very early ex-JW groups that formed after Ray Franz left Bethel.

One of the issues our team grappled with was how to incorporate Advocates for Jehovah’s Witness Reform on Blood (AJWRB) and create a structure to insure that the information on the site would continue to be available after we were dead and gone. In 2013, I learned about Advocates for Awareness of Watchtower Abuses (aawa.co) and asked two of their members, John Hoyle and Richard “Dick” Kelly, if they could help us.

After working a year with John, a website designer, and Dick, a businessman and writer, we had developed a mutual respect and admiration for each other, so the leadership teams of AJWRB and AAWA agreed to join forces. On February 7, 2014, AJWRB officially became part of AAWA, which is a 501 (C) (3) charity.

A new era in my battle to save lives

Today in 2017, the disheartening truth is that, despite the progress that has been made, there are still an estimated 1,200 or more Jehovah’s Witnesses dying annually because of the current blood policy. The vast majority of these deaths are not considered newsworthy and hence slip under the radar. For the sake of comparison, the annual death toll of Witnesses who refuse life-saving blood is greater than the Jonestown massacre on November 18, 1978 in Guyana that claimed 918 lives. All of the Watchtower’s equivocation has only managed to kick the can down the road. In the time since the the Watchtower finally permitted all blood fractions in 2000, it is likely that there have been 20,000 additional victims – more than 22 Jonestown Massacres.

the Watchtower has made the tragic mistake of supporting a policy they believed was handed down to the governing body from God; a policy with little, if any, scriptural merit. It is a policy that children are groomed to support from infancy – even if it means their young lives must end as martyrs for a purely organizational policy that has been in a perpetual state of change since its inception in 1945. This Watchtower policy is a clear example of predatory psychological manipulation of its members.

Watchtower leaders are neither insightful or compassionate. They have no special knowledge or communication with God; nor do they have medical or scientific expertise. The Watchtower’s opposition to higher education ensures this. Even worse, they don’t appear to care about or have any compassion for their members. As a result, the Watchtower is not a safe place to be. This is precisely why the vast majority of the elders and Hospital Liaison Committee (HLC) members who started Advocates for Jehovah’s Witness Reform on Blood (AJWRB) are no longer active Witnesses. None of us could justify continuing to expose our families to this kind of risk and undue influence, or condone what is happening to others.

The Watchtower’s blood policy has gradually come to be seen by most of the world for what it is. The internal and external pressure will continue to increase through a variety of factors, not least of which is withering financial support. Eventually, governments will become involved and enforce new coercive control laws. Insiders will leak documents, lawyers will win massive judgments, and the Watchtower will have no option but to let this deadly prohibition go like previous bans on vaccines, organ transplants, blood serum, clotting factors, albumin, hemoglobin, and so on.

This is my sincere belief, and I will continue to work for that day. Whether it will come in my lifetime, I have no idea. Reforms have happened before, they will likely happen again. In the meantime, we continue to help reform the thinking of individual Jehovah’s Witnesses and their physicians – saving as many lives as possible. If you would like to learn more, or help reform Watchtower’s policy on blood transfusions and save lives, please visit our websites:

http://ajwrb.org/, https://www.facebook.com/ajwrb/, http://aawa.co/ or http://openmindsfoundation.org/.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about Watchtower’s blood policy that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! 

Here are the complete documents from which the above snippets were excerpted:

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Series NavigationSaving a Thousand Lives a Year: Reforming Watchtower’s Policy on Blood – Part One
Author

Lee Elder is the pseudonym of a former Jehovah’s Witness Elder.

8 Comments

  1. sue fointein September 22, 2017 at 2:21 am - Reply

    Thank you Lee Elder and all AJWRB members. I’ve had a lot of respect through the years for your work.

  2. Enlightened September 22, 2017 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    Thank you from Nova Scotia, Canada.

  3. Richard September 23, 2017 at 6:58 am - Reply

    I’d like to help. Is there anything I can do here in the UK?

  4. Lee Elder September 23, 2017 at 9:19 pm - Reply

    Sue: You’re welcome. Thank you for your interest in AJWRB.

    Enlightened: You’re welcome.

    Richard: If you are interested in working with AJWRB, please email me at: [email protected]

  5. Jack Wyatt September 25, 2017 at 3:28 am - Reply

    Hi Lee, Do you know Marvin Shilmer?

  6. Bonnie Zieman September 25, 2017 at 7:05 pm - Reply

    So enjoyed reading a detailed account of all the self-serving changes in blood policies of Watchtower, Lee. Thank you for the work you do! All the information you provide must be very affirming for any active JWs who make private decisions to take blood and spare the lives of their children in emergency situations.

  7. Lee Elder September 25, 2017 at 8:27 pm - Reply

    Jack: Yes – I’ve known Marvin for many years.

    Bonnie: You’re very welcome, and thank you for the important work you are doing. I would very much like to have you write an article for us that addresses the psychological issues confronting a JW who is forced to deal with the blood issue. Finding the strength to even question the policy is no little thing. Then confronting the implanted phobias, manipulation, etc. It would be useful for physicians to be able to better understand what their JW patients are up against so they can help them.

  8. Jack Wyatt September 26, 2017 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    Hi Lee, I have known Marvin for many years and lost contact with him a year ago. I have tried to
    contact him by email but get no reply and his website is gone. I am concerned that he has passed away. Have you heard from him?

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