Jehovah’s Witnesses have been directed that they are forbidden from accepting Convalescent Plasma Therapy, a new treatment that appears to offer hope for patients stricken with coronavirus.
A leaked memo from a Jehovah’s Witness Circuit Overseer instructs elders in his circuit that accepting plasma treatments to ward off COVID-19 is “unacceptable.”
While these instructions are in harmony with current Witness teachings on blood and are for dissemination among a limited number of congregations, the material emphasizes the organization’s willingness to place their theology above the need to preserve life.
The two-page letter, received under conditions of anonymity, cites the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announcement on March 24th that certain patients may be eligible to receive plasma collected from individuals who have recovered from COVID-19.
Evidence collected by researchers suggests that the antibodies present in the plasma of recovered patients may help neutralize the COVID-19 virus.
The use of plasma, however, is strictly forbidden by Jehovah’s Witnesses, who adhere to a controversial ban on blood treatments dating back to 1945.
Multiple reports have focused on the implementation and success of this new treatment, which has been approved for testing in New York State. Jehovah’s Witnesses, headquartered in New York, promptly seized the opportunity to enforce their ban on whole blood, including red and white cells, platelets, and plasma.
The new directive from a Jehovah’s Witness representatives says:
“The Blood Issue: There’s talk about the FDA allowing doctors to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients with “convalescent plasma therapy”. It would be wise to advise the publishers that, it’s understood that this is giving the patient the whole plasma of the person who has developed the antibodies which would be unacceptable for a Jehovah’s Witness.”
“However if the antibodies were extracted from the plasma (fractions/immunoglobulins) and then given to the patient, it would be a conscience matter for a Jehovah’s Witness. Some doctors may view plasma as a fraction. Therefore the publisher may need to explain their personal decision not to accept any of the blood’s 4 main components, one of them being plasma. (Regarding the main components and fractions, see lvs pp. 246-249 & km 11/06 p. 5 Work Sheet 1)”
Witness leaders appear concerned that amidst the pandemic dimensions of the Coronavirus, some critically ill church members may be tempted to accept plasma therapy treatment.
… it’s understood that this is giving the patient the whole plasma of the person who has developed the antibodies which would be unacceptable for a Jehovah’s WitnessLetter from Governing Body Representative and Circuit Overseer
For decades Jehovah’s Witness leaders have, with relative ease, managed to exercise jurisdiction over their members’ medical decisions related to blood by means of a global network of Hospital Liasion Committees (HLC). Witness elders assigned to these Committees are pejoratively referred to as the “Blood Police” due to their enforcement of the transfusion ban in hospitals around the world.
However, the rapidly spreading Coronavirus has triggered numerous global responses from upper Witness management, indicating that enforcement of their deadly blood policy may prove abnormally challenging. Among the complications of policy execution is the likelihood that church elders will no longer be permitted to enter the wards of critically ill members stricken with the virus.
Watchtower Enforces Past Policy
The letter cites the Witness publication “How to Remain in God’s Love” – a 2017 book which outlines the rules and regulations followed by Witnesses, and enforced by congregation elders.
Willingly failing to participate in the Jehovah’s Witness ban on all life-saving blood treatments results in the designation “Disassociated” – which carries the same penalty of shunning as disfellowshipping.
Disassociation is a term contrived by the Watchtower organization in an attempt to shield the religion from legal liability and loss of charity status.
According to the secret Elder’s manual Shepherd the Flock of God, “disassociation is an action taken by a baptized individual in the congregation who no longer desires to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
[October 2019 edition, Shepherd the Flock of God, chapter 18, paragraph 1]
Yet the acceptance of medical treatments involving blood components almost never involves resignation from the Witness religion.
Also cited is the November 2006 Witness newsletter Our Kingdom Ministry in which Witnesses were advised that they might choose to accept certain fractionalized derivatives of blood, but under no circumstances would they accept the four primary components of blood, including plasma.
It is noteworthy that Watchtower’s latest directive states that “if the antibodies were extracted from the plasma (fractions/immunoglobulins) and then given to the patient, it would be a conscience matter for a Jehovah’s Witness.” What the Organization fails to communicate is the fact that fractionalized immunoglobulin (plasma) for the COVID-19 virus does not yet exist.
According to a March 28th article in the Atlantic, “Eventually, pharmaceutical companies might be interested in pooling and purifying plasma down to a concentrated dose of antibodies—at which point convalescent plasma truly would be a standardized product you pull off the shelf.”
JW Survey researcher Sherrie D’Souza interviewed noted Australian surgeon and Professor John Thompson, who confirmed that it may be possible to extract antibodies from plasma but [Professor Thompson] has not heard of any hospitals, universities or pharma companies doing this yet. [Professor Thompson] also said that such transfusions do not contain any blood cells, that it [is] an acellular transfusion and that plasma [is] simply the fluid that antibodies [are] suspended in.
Jehovah’s Witnesses reason that if the antibodies can be extracted from the plasma, they become a viable treatment that does not violate their interpretation of God’s law.
Thus, Witness leadership has postulated on a hypothetical Jehovah-approved treatment that might be several years away from deployment. Effectively, it’s a dangling medicinal carrot that does little good in the thick of a global epidemic.
Of course, this reasoning does not necessarily represent the thinking of individual Witnesses. Rather it is the collective voice of Watchtower policymakers, including Governing Body Helper Gene Smalley, the Organization’s blood czar for decades.
Unfortunately, Witness beliefs are not a-la-carte, and decisions made in New York must never be questioned by individual members.
The blood policy has been carefully adjusted to balance the load between hemophilia-related deaths and casualties from childbirth, accident trauma, and diseases like leukemia. Charts and graphs and blood cards and Durable Power of Attorney (DPA) forms have been published and distributed and explained to more than 8 million Witnesses who would likely prefer to simply say “I respect life” – and take the blood.
JW Survey interviewed former Witness clergyman Lee Elder, the founder of AJWRB, Advocates for Jehovah’s Witness Reform on Blood. Elder said that “The irony is that Watchtower policy permits the use of 100% of all blood fractions – just not simultaneously.”
Fractions of blood have been a hot topic among Jehovah’s Witnesses since the technology became available to separate human blood into individual components. The spinning of vials of blood, called blood fractionation, results in multiple component layers inside test tubes, including red cells, white cells, and plasma.
Lee’s comments reinforce the paradox where Jehovah’s Witnesses are presently permitted to accept certain “minor” derivatives of blood, but are forbidden from donating their own blood to save the lives of fellow citizens.
The Watchtower Organization has coercively prevented more than 8 million people from contributing to global blood banks, thus disabling the charitable aspirations of members who would otherwise be willing to help save lives.
And then there is the obvious threat to the personal well-being of each member of the Jehovah’s Witness Organization, which has made it clear that Convalescent Plasma Therapy is not an option.
For Jehovah’s Witnesses, the difference between life and death might just be a centrifuge.
National Convalescent Plasma Project: https://ccpp19.org/index.html
Johns Hopkins University: https://hub.jhu.edu/2020/04/08/arturo-casadevall-blood-sera-profile/