What are the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs and how did the faith begin?
Jehovah’s Witnesses began in Pennsylvania in the 1870s with the Bible Students group, founded by Charles Taze Russell. In 1879 Russell began publishing the magazine that soon became known as The Watchtower. The name Jehovah’s Witnesses, based on Isaiah 43:10, was not adopted until 1931. Witnesses reject the doctrine of the Trinity and believe in the imminence of Armageddon, to which various dates have been assigned, such as 1914.
Why and how is blood a prohibition?
The prohibition is based on four Bible passages. Other religious groups who adhere strictly to these passages interpret them to mean consumption by mouth only.
Genesis 9:4 “Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”
Leviticus 17:12-14 “Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood….whoever eats it shall be cut off.”
Acts 15:29 “That you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity.”
Acts 21:25 “But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity.”
Is it possible to be a Jehovah’s Witness and not refuse blood transfusions?
Witnesses can choose to accept whole blood transfusions but will be “shunned” by their community for doing so. Recently, however, a degree of flexibility has entered intepretation of the prohibition on blood. Witnesses are allowed to accept fractional blood components such as globulin, clotting factors, plasma proteins and haemoglobin. They are expected to repent afterwards, however.
One study showed an exceptionally high risk of mortality in women who refused a blood transfusion when giving birth. The study found a death rate of one in 1,000 maternities compared to the norm of fewer than one in 100,000.
The prohibition has encouraged the medical profession to develop effective bloodless surgical methods.
Can doctors override such a request? Could next of kin overturn the patient’s wishes?
Such a course is legally fraught. The courts have respected the rights of adult Witnesses to refuse transfusions, because of an adult’s prerogative over his or her own body.
Studies have shown that some European doctors would ignore the request and give a lifesaving transfusion, with many not telling the Witness afterwards. But doctors in Britain have traditionally been more cautious, aware that saving the life of a Witness by giving them blood they did not want could lead to their being sued. When it comes to children, however, doctors in Britain can go to court to have medical responsibility transferred from the parents.
How many Witnesses are there in Britain and the world? Is it regarded as a religion?
Witness numbers are declining slowly. There are now about 70,000 in England and Wales. There are more than six million worldwide, a million of these in the US, which, with Brazil, also has the largest number of annual baptisms.
The religion is recognised in Britain, and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Britain is a registered charity.