The Blood That Really Saves Lives
Certain points are clear from the foregoing information. Though many people view them as lifesaving, blood transfusions are fraught with risks. Each year thousands die as a result of transfusions; multitudes more get very sick and face long-term consequences. So, even from a physical standpoint, there is wisdom right now in heeding the Biblical command to ‘abstain from blood.’—Acts 15:28, 29.
Patients are protected from many hazards if they request nonblood medical management. Skilled physicians who have accepted the challenge of applying this on Jehovah’s Witnesses have developed a standard of practice that is safe and effective, as is proved in numerous medical reports. Physicians who provide quality care without blood are not compromising valued medical principles. Rather, they show respect for a patient’s right to know risks and benefits so that he can make an informed choice as to what will be done to his body and life.
We are not being naive in this matter, for we realize that not all will agree with this approach. People differ as to conscience, ethics, and medical outlook. Hence, others, including some doctors, may find it hard to accept a patient’s decision to abstain from blood. One New York surgeon wrote: “I will never forget 15 years ago, as a young intern when I stood at the bedside of a Jehovah’s Witness who bled to death from a duodenal ulcer. The patient’s wishes were respected and no transfusions were given, but I can still remember the tremendous frustration as a physician I felt.”
He no doubt believed that blood would have been lifesaving. The year after he wrote that, however, The British Journal of Surgery (October 1986) reported that prior to the advent of transfusions, gastrointestinal hemorrhage had “a mortality rate of only 2.5 per cent.” Since transfusions became customary, ‘most large studies report a 10-percent mortality.’ Why a death rate four times as high? The researchers suggested: “Early blood transfusion appears to reverse the hypercoagulable response to haemorrhage thereby encouraging rebleeding.” When the Witness with the bleeding ulcer refused blood, his choice may actually have maximized his prospects for survival.
This same surgeon added: “The passage of time and treating many patients has a tendency to change one’s perspective, and today I find the trust between a patient and his physician, and the duty to respect a patient’s wishes far more important than the new medical technology which surrounds us. . . . It is interesting that the frustration has now given way to a sense of awe and reverence for that particular patient’s steadfast faith.” The physician concluded: ‘It reminds me that I should always respect a patient’s personal and religious wishes regardless of my feelings or the consequences.’
You may already realize something that many physicians come to appreciate with “the passage of time and treating many patients.” Even with the best of medical care in the finest of hospitals, at some point people die. With or without blood transfusions, they die. All of us are aging, and life’s end is approaching. That is not fatalistic. It is realistic. Dying is a fact of life.
The evidence shows that people who disregard God’s law on blood often experience immediate or delayed harm; some even die from the blood. Those who survive have not gained endless life. So blood transfusions do not save lives permanently.
Most people who, for religious and/or medical reasons, refuse blood but accept alternative medical therapy do very well. They may thus extend their life for years. But not endlessly.
That all humans are imperfect and are gradually dying leads us to the central truth of what the Bible says about blood. If we understand and appreciate this truth, we will see how blood can actually save life—our life—lastingly.
THE ONLY BLOOD THAT IS LIFESAVING
As noted earlier, God told all mankind that they must not eat blood. Why? Because blood represents life. (Genesis 9:3-6) He explained this further in the Law code given to Israel. At the time the Law code was ratified, the blood of sacrificed animals was used on an altar. (Exodus 24:3-8) Laws in that code addressed the fact that all humans are imperfect; they are sinful, as the Bible puts it. God told the Israelites that by means of animal sacrifices offered to him, they could acknowledge the need to have their sins covered. (Leviticus 4:4-7, 13-18, 22-30) Granted, that was what God asked of them back then, not what he asks of true worshipers today. Yet it has vital import for us now.
God himself explained the principle underlying those sacrifices: “The soul [or, life] of the flesh is in the blood, and I myself have put it upon the altar for you to make atonement for your souls, because it is the blood that makes atonement by the soul in it. That is why I have said to the sons of Israel: ‘No soul of you must eat blood.’”—Leviticus 17:11, 12.
On the ancient festival called Atonement Day, Israel’s high priest took blood of sacrificed animals into the most sacred part of the temple, the center of God’s worship. Doing that was a symbolic way of asking God to cover the people’s sins. (Leviticus 16:3-6, 11-16) Those sacrifices did not actually do away with all sin, so they had to be repeated each year. Still, this use of blood set a meaningful pattern.
A major teaching in the Bible is that God would eventually provide one perfect sacrifice that could fully atone for the sins of all believers. This is called the ransom, and it focuses on the sacrifice of the foretold Messiah, or Christ.
The Bible compares the Messiah’s role to what was done on Atonement Day: “When Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come to pass, through the greater and more perfect [temple] not made with hands, . . . he entered, no, not with the blood of goats and of young bulls, but with his own blood, once for all time into the holy place [heaven] and obtained an everlasting deliverance for us. Yes, nearly all things are cleansed with blood according to the Law, and unless blood is poured out no forgiveness takes place.”—Hebrews 9:11, 12, 22.
It thus becomes plain why we need to have God’s view of blood. In accord with his right as Creator, he has determined its exclusive usefulness. Israelites of old may have reaped health benefits by not taking in animal or human blood, but that was not the most important point. (Isaiah 48:17) They had to avoid sustaining their lives with blood, not primarily because doing otherwise was unhealthy, but because it was unholy to God. They were to abstain from blood, not because it was polluted, but because it was precious in obtaining forgiveness.
The apostle Paul explained about the ransom: “By means of him [Christ] we have the release by ransom through the blood of that one, yes, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his undeserved kindness.” (Ephesians 1:7) The original Greek word found there is properly translated “blood,” but a number of Bible versions err in substituting the word “death.” Hence, readers might miss the emphasis on our Creator’s view of blood and the sacrificial value that he has linked to it.
The Bible’s theme revolves around the fact that Christ died as a perfect ransom sacrifice but did not remain dead. Following the pattern that God set on Atonement Day, Jesus was raised to heaven to “appear before the person of God for us.” He presented there the value of his sacrificial blood. (Hebrews 9:24) The Bible emphasizes that we must avoid any course that would amount to ‘trampling on the Son of God and esteeming his blood as of ordinary value.’ Only thus may we keep a good relationship and peace with God.—Hebrews 10:29; Colossians 1:20.
ENJOY LIFE SAVED BY BLOOD
When we understand what God says about blood, we come to have the greatest respect for its lifesaving value. The Scriptures describe Christ as the one who ‘loves us and who loosed us from our sins by means of his own blood.’ (Revelation 1:5; John 3:16) Yes, by means of Jesus’ blood, we can gain full and lasting forgiveness of our sins. The apostle Paul wrote: “Since we have been declared righteous now by his blood, shall we be saved through him from wrath.” That is how lasting life can be saved by blood.—Romans 5:9; Hebrews 9:14.
Jehovah God long ago gave assurance that by means of Christ ‘all the families of the earth can bless themselves.’ (Genesis 22:18) That blessing includes restoring the earth to a paradise. Then believing mankind will no longer be afflicted with sickness, aging, or even death; they will enjoy blessings that far exceed the temporary aid medical personnel can now offer us. We have this marvelous promise: “He will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”—Revelation 21:4.
How wise, then, for us to take to heart all of God’s requirements! That includes obeying his commands about blood, not misusing it even in medical situations. We thus will not live just for the moment. Rather, we will manifest our high regard for life, including our future prospect of everlasting life in human perfection.
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God’s people refused to sustain their lives with blood, not because doing that was unhealthy, but because it was unholy, not because blood was polluted, but because it was precious.
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“By means of him [Jesus] we have the release by ransom through the blood of that one, yes, the forgiveness of our trespasses.”—Ephesians 1:7
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Saving life with Jesus’ blood opens the way to endless, healthy life in an earthly paradise