The Holy Texts Guide Policies On Blood

In Old Testament verses, God repeatedly tells the Israelites to not eat blood.

At the Last Supper, which is described in the New Testament and is the theological foundation for Christian eucharist, Jesus bids His disciples to drink wine, for it is His blood which seals a covenant with God.

Occasionally, controversy over the medical use of blood boils to the surface.

When it does, Jehovah's Witnesses are usually central figures in headline news about battles pitting religious freedom against the power of the state.

In January, a Jehovah's Witness woman in British Columbia gave birth to sextuplets who were three months premature. Four survived.

Doctors argue that babies born extremely prematurely often need blood transfusions -- which are strictly against Jehovah's Witnesses teaching.

Last month, the B.C. government seized three of the babies, against the parents' objections, and gave transfusions to two of them before returning custody to the parents.

The lawyer for the parents, who are challenging the childrens' seizure in court, has argued that the province violated Supreme Court of Canada directives to ensure parents have a say before medical procedures are performed over their objections.

Jehovah's Witnesses use the Bible as the foundation to their objection to blood transfusions, said Mark Ruge, director for public information for Jehovah's Witnesses Canada.

Some critics argue biblical prohibitions on consuming blood only ban the eating of blood.

But Ruge says Jehovah's Witnesses consider receiving a blood transfusion as consuming blood.

"It's like a doctor said, 'I want you to abstain from alcohol. No more drinking, it's going to kill you. No more alcohol.' That doesn't mean (the patient) can put it in a syringe and put it in his vein . . . he's still taking it into his body.

"The Creator, we believe Jehovah, we know He knows more about blood, what it can do and what it can't do, than anybody else."

Ruge pointed to the tainted-blood scandal of the 1980s when thousands of Canadians contracted HIV and hepatitis C after receiving contaminated donor blood.

"The Creator, who has foreknowledge, can look ahead and know what things are going to transpire in the future," Ruge said.

Because Jehovah's Witnesses don't support consuming blood, they also do not donate blood.

Ruge noted doctors are using, and further developing, medical techniques that can be used as alternatives to blood transfusions.

In the case of the B.C. sextuplets, most news reports indicated the children would die without transfusions, Ruge said.

But doctors can't guarantee the outcome of a medical treatment for any patient, he said.

"Only God can be positive in saying (it) will save that (patient)."

In Judaism, biblical prohibitions on taking blood are on eating it, Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig says.

Rosenzweig, spiritual leader at Beth Jacob Congregation in Kitchener, said in an interview that God forbids Jews to eat any blood from any mammal.

But there is no prohibition on either donating blood or receiving a blood transfusion, he said.

"Saving a life . . . it's not a concept, it's a human being."

In Judaism the soul is considered to be housed in the blood, he said.

"Contrary to popular myth, the soul is not a spirit, a human-like ghost form," he said. "The soul is the life force that moves through the body in the blood."

So it must be respected.

When a Jew dies in a traffic accident, in surgery, or from a violent attack, his or her bloody clothes, bandages and sheets are buried with the body, Rosenzweig said.

"We don't want the blood to go down into the sewer system," he said. "We want the blood to go back into the earth."

Consuming blood isn't allowed in Islam, said Abdul Mannan Syed, imam at the Muslim Society of Waterloo and Wellington Counties mosque in Waterloo.

In the Qur'an, in a chapter called the Table, God forbids followers to eat pork, carrion or blood.

The prophet Muhammad, Islam's founder, taught that blood must be treated respectfully, Syed said.

"Each other's blood and wealth should be sacred to each other as you keep the house of God sacred for each other -- not violated."

One reason that the Canadian Blood Services may not be getting ample blood donations from immigrant communities is that many new Canadians aren't familiar with western systems of donating and collecting blood, he said.

People in his home city in India would donate blood for relatives who are undergoing surgery, he said. Otherwise, the practice of donating blood isn't common.

Christian Science (not to be con- fused with the Church of Scientology) is a system for healing through prayer, says Eric Nickerson, public information officer for Ontario on the practise of Christian Science.

Church members opt first for healing through prayer, he said in an interview.

But there is no prohibition on receiving modern medical treatment, donating blood or receiving a blood transfusion, Nickerson said.

"It's really up to the individual."

In Sikhism, there is no religious prohibition on donating or receiving blood, says Chattar Ahuja, spokesperson for the Golden Triangle Sikh Association, which has a temple near Petersburg, west of Kitchener.

Ahuja said his congregation wanted to hold a blood donor clinic at the temple recently, but couldn't meet the health requirements because extensive renovations were underway.

Now that renovations are complete, Ahuja said, he is exploring the possibility of hosting a clinic.

Chaitanya Jyoti, one of two spiritual leaders at Shri Ram Dham Hindu Temple in Kitchener, says scriptures about blood in Hindu traditions formed the foundation of the caste system in India.

People used to not marry outside of their caste in order to maintain the purity of bloodlines, she said.

For example priests and intellectuals of the highest caste, called Brahman, would usually marry within their own caste in order to more easily pass on religious traditions to their children, Jyoti said.

"Some things, people automatically adopt. It's easy for them to follow."

Brahman would accept young women for brides from other castes, but they wouldn't give their daughters as brides to lower caste grooms in order to maintain blood purity, she said.

In modern times some maintain that practice, others don't.

People can improve their blood through spiritual practices, she added.

Lama Karma Phuntsok, teacher at the Palpung Yeshe Chokhor Meditation Centre in Kitchener, said he knows of no restrictions in Tibetan Buddhism on receiving a blood transfusion.

But donating blood is a positive act of generosity, he said.

"Giving is really really important, he said. "Giving is actually receiving."

In Theravada Buddhism, there is no prohibition on donating blood or receiving a blood transfusion, said Ven. Deba Mitra Bhikkhu, one of the resident monks at Phommaviharam Buddhist Temple in Kitchener.

Blood donation is beneficial for the patient who needs blood, he said, but also spiritually beneficial for donors.

"By practising generosity they're sharing something valuable," Bhikkhu said of donors. "Blood gives life to other people"

But the donor's intention is important, he added.

Bhikkhu's congregation is mostly composed of people from Sri Lanka and Laos. Sri Lanka's military has been fighting a war against Tamil independence fighters. So some people donate blood as a patriotic act, Bhikkhu said, because donations would go to the government army hospital.

"From an ideological perspective, an ideal way of giving something is to give something for the sake of giving, Bhikkhu said. "Rather than thinking who . . . would receive it."


The Bible

Book of Genesis 9:4

"The one thing you must not eat is meat with blood still in it; I forbid this because the life is in the blood."

Leviticus 3:17

"No Israelite may eat any fat or any blood; this is a rule to be kept forever by all Israelites wherever they live."

Leviticus 17:10-13

"If any Israelite or any foreigner living in the community eats meat with blood still in it, the Lord will turn against him and no longer consider him one of his people. "The life of every living thing is in the blood, and that is why the Lord has commanded that all blood be poured out on the altar to take away the people's sins. Blood, which is life, takes away sins.

"That is why the Lord has told the people of Israel that neither they nor any foreigner living among them shall eat any meat with blood still in it.

"If any Israelite or any foreigner living in the community catches an animal or a bird which is ritually clean, he must pour its blood out on the ground and cover it with dirt."

Deuteronomy 12:16

"But you must not eat their (animals') blood; you must pour it out on the ground like water."

Acts 15:19-20

"It is my opinion," James went on "that we should not trouble the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead, we should write a letter telling them not to eat any food that is ritually unclean because it has been offered to idols; to keep themselves from sexual immorality; and not to eat any animal that has been strangled, or any blood."

Acts 15:29

". . . eat no food that has been offered to idols; eat no blood; eat no animal that has been strangled . . . "

The Qur'an Table 5:3

"You are forbidden carrion, blood, and the flesh of swine; also any flesh dedicated to any other than God."

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