On March 9, 1998, the European Commission of Human Rights accepted a settlement between the government of Bulgaria and the Christian Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses in which Bulgaria, in exchange for a significant concession from the Witnesses, agreed to recognize the Witnesses as an official religious organization.
The Bulgarian government, in order to reach an agreement, will now provide civilian service for conscientious objectors to military service (Information Note No. 148, <http://188.8.131.52/eng/E276INFO. 148.html>). The compromise made by the Society is far more noteworthy. The Society agreed, regarding blood transfusions, that “members should have free choice in the matter for themselves and their children, without any control or sanction on the part of the association” (Ibid.; emphases added).
A press release distributed in 1997 by the Commission clearly explains the understanding of the Commission and the Bulgarians of the Society’s stated position:
In respect of the refusal of blood transfusion, the applicant association [i.e., the Jehovah’s Witnesses] submits that there are no religious sanctions for a Jehovah’s Witness who chooses to accept blood transfusion and that, therefore, the fact that the religious doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses is against blood transfusion cannot amount to a threat to ‘public health’ (Press Communiqué Issued by the Secretary to the European Commission of Human Rights, Application No. 28626/95, <http://www.dhcommhr.coe.fr/eng/28626CP.E.html>; emphasis added).
This concession seems to be a remarkable reversal of Watchtower doctrine, raising the question: will Jehovah’s Witnesses now be allowed to receive blood transfusions, or was the Society disingenuous in its agreement?