Since a jehovah's Witness (hereafter: JW) who refuses blood bases his or her decision on trust in the wisdom and divine leadership of the Watch Tower Society (hereafter: WTS), it will be instructive to look at the record of the WTS in dealing with medical questions.
The current application of certain Bible texts, notably Acts 15:28,29, to support a blood prohibition for Christians was not shared by its founder, Charles Taze Russell. In a commentary about the apostolic council of Acts 15, Russell said:
He [James] further suggested writing to them merely that they abstain from pollutions of idols (verse 29), and from things strangled and from blood as by eating such things they might become stumbling blocks to their Jewish brethren (See 1. Cor. 8:4-13) and from fornication" (Zions Watch Tower, Nov. 15, 1892, p. 1473 reprints)
So even though blood transfusions were not yet in use, Russell was clear that he does not even consider the dietary law on blood binding for Christians. We will return to this later.
After Russells death the Society gradually changed its view. The Watchtower of Dec. 15, 1927, page 371, hinted strongly that the "blood prohibition" in Genesis 9:4 applies to all men. Nevertheless, as long as only dietary law was being considered, this was not a controversial question.
A development beginning in the late 1920s became far more important in establishing the later blood prohibition than any Bible text.
Like many children of the 19th century, Russell was extremely fascinated with science, technology and development. This fascination led to some ideas that were embarrassing in hindsight (like pyramidology), but his approach to popular "science" was mostly positive. Russell was above all an optimist. The disappointments following the failed predictions of a peaceful new world in 1914 were probably the reason this optimism would fade from Watchtower teaching.
The leadership under "Judge" Joseph Rutherford, who became President after Russells death in 1916, was also fascinated with technology and science. But if Russell had some strange ideas, Rutherford went over the hill and far away. Even more so did Clayton J. Woodworth, co-author of the infamous seventh volume of Studies in the Scriptures, "The Finished Mystery" (1917). In 1919 he became editor of a magazine called "The Golden Age," which is now known as Awake!
It is a generous description of Woodworth to call him a crackpot.
The Golden Age became a forum for the most extravagant claims about science. And above all, Woodworth was a champion of his very special ideas about medicine and health. The Bible Students could enjoy a steady stream of health advice, one stranger than the other:
"There is no food that is right food for the morning meal. At breakfast is no time to break a fast. Keep up the daily fast until the noon hour... Drink plenty of water two hours after each meal; drink none just before eating; and a small quantity if any at meal time. Good buttermilk is a health drink at meal times and in between. Do not take a bath until two hours after eating a meal, nor closer than one hour before eating. Drink a full glass of water both before and after the bath." (Golden Age, Sept. 9, 1925, pp. 784-785)
"The earlier in the forenoon you take the sun bath, the greater will be the beneficial effect, because you get more of the ultra-violet rays, which are healing" (Golden Age, Sept. 13, 1933, p. 777)
One major point in all the propaganda was the idea that aluminium cookware was the source for all sorts of horrible diseases. Jehovahs Witnesses would therefore be very sceptical towards eating out, and might often blame a food poisoning on the cooking vessel instead of the food. You can find quite a few letters from readers in this period telling how wonderful it was that their child had been healed from various diseases by heeding the warnings in The Golden Age against aluminium cookware.
Another, much more serious delusion was the idea that the medical doctors were the agents of Satan.
"We do well to bear in mind that among the drugs, serums, vaccines, surgical operations, etc., of the medical profession, there is nothing of value save an occasional surgical procedure. . . . Readers of The Golden Age know the unpleasant truth about the clergy; they should also know the truth about the medical profession, which sprang from the same demon worshipping shamans (doctor priests) as did the doctors of divinity." (Golden Age, Aug. 5, 1931 pp. 727-728)
It follows naturally that with this position, the Watchtower Society was serious about denying the "germ theory of disease" as a dangerous delusion from these "demon worshipping" medical doctors. Disease, they claimed, came from "wrong vibrations," and the WTS even marketed a special machine called the Electronic Radio Biola, which claimed to heal patients by sending special "radio waves" which corrected the vibrations. Needless to say, there were many letters from readers who had been healed by this device. The Golden Age carried advertisements for this wonderful machine, created by a Bible Student:
"Disease is Wrong Vibration. From what has thus far been said, it will be apparent to all that any disease is simply an out of tune condition of some part of the organism. In other words the affected part or the body vibrates higher or lower than normal. . . . I have named this new discovery . . . the Electronic Radio Biola, . . . The Biola automatically diagnoses and treats diseases by the use of electronic vibrations. The diagnosis is 100 percent correct, rendering better service in this respect than the most experienced diagnostician, and without any attending cost." (Advert in The Golden Age, April 22, 1925, pp. 453-454).
Even more astonishing than the quack science involved was the direct link to occult practices in this machine. The claim that the medical profession had descended from "demon worshipping shamans" becomes quite ironic when we see how this Radio Biola worked: The patient was told to write his or her name on a piece of paper. A tiny piece, only a dot, of this paper with ink was put into the machine. The machine (or rather, the operator) then somehow answered "yes" and "no" to questions about the patients health, reading the "electronic oscillations" of the patients organs based on this dot of ink. It was not limited to diagnosis; the machine had even been employed to answer questions about peoples life expectancy.
If the reader thinks this sounds like a fancy Ouija Board, he is quite correct. One Roy Goodrich, who was such a respected "Bible Student" that he was allowed to write a warning-article in The Golden Age, was convinced this machine was a clever spiritistic trap. The WTS leadership disagreed, and Mr. Goodrich found himself disfellowshipped (see The Golden Age April 22, 1925 pp 606-7; March 5, 1930 pp 355-62).
As we see above, the Watchtower Society argued that illness was caused by electrical "unbalance" in organs (which could be fixed: "Send for a Biola today. Price $35. Cash with order."). The idea that germs caused disease was not accepted in these quarters:
"medicine originated in demonology and spent its time until the last century and a half trying to exorcise demons. During the past half century it has tried to exorcise germs." (Golden Age, Aug. 5, 1931, p. 728)
The magazine further warned the Jehovahs Witnesses against x-rays (Sept. 23, 1936, p. 828), and even though it didnt consequently deny the benefit of all surgery, tonsillectomy was worse than suicide:
"If any overzealous doctor condemns your tonsils go and commit suicide with a case-knife. Its cheaper and less painful." (Golden Age, April 7, 1926, p. 438)
How could anyone today even consider accepting medical advice from these people? At this point, it would be interesting to examine the source and origins of the present blood prohibition from the same Watchtower Society.