A child who died after refusing blood transfusions is highlighted as a role model for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “It is incomprehensible that they receive state support,” says former member Jan Frode Nilsen.
Originally published on Vårt land by Caroline Teinum Gilje on June 26, 2021.
BLOOD TRANSFUSION: “Be willing to put your life in Jehovah’s hands,” Jehovah’s Witnesses wrote in a recent study article in Norwegian. A 15-year-old who refused blood transfusions and died is cited as a reminder.
“With this article, Norwegian children are encouraged to become martyrs, and with the support of the Norwegian state,” says Jan Frode Nilsen (44), who grew up in Jehovah’s Witnesses, but left after 35 years.
He is referring to a text he recently came across on the Norwegian website of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Each month, Jehovah’s Witnesses publish internal study articles that deal with Bible texts. This month, members of the faith community will, among other things, go into depth on Jesus’ last words before he died on a torture stake. (Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe Jesus died on a cross.)
The article, which has been translated into Norwegian, refers to the following quote from Jesus: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” “What can we learn from what Jesus said?” they ask, giving the following answer: “Be willing to put your life in Jehovah’s hands. To do that, you must ‘put your trust in Jehovah with all your heart.’
Then a reminder is drawn that Nilsen reacts strongly to:
“Think of Joshua, a 15-year-old brother with a deadly disease. He said no to medical treatment which was a violation of God’s law. Shortly before he died, he said to his mother: ‘Mom, I’m in Jehovah’s hands … I can say for sure, Mom: I know that Jehovah will give me life back in the resurrection. He has examined my heart, and I really love him.'”
‘Dark and scary’
The article further encourages reflection:
“We should all ask ourselves: ‘Will I continue to have strong faith if I find myself in a situation where I risk losing my life because of my faithfulness to Jehovah? Will I put my life in Jehovah’s hands and trust that he will remember me?'”
An accompanying footnote refers to an article about Joshua Walker from Canada who had cancer, so-called acute myelogenous leukemia, but who refused blood transfusions for religious reasons. Walker died in 1995, aged 15, according to an article published on the website of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“I think it is incomprehensible that the Norwegian state provides support to someone who fronts such attitudes. Here a dead child is pulled out and linked to the resurrection. Then you are on martyrdom doctrine. To die for their faith because you are resurrected anyway, is very dark and frightening, not least for the children who grow up with this doctrine and have this as their reality,” says Nilsen.
According to Nilsen, parents in Jehovah’s Witnesses are expected to do what they can to prevent their unbaptized children from getting blood. However, section 7 of the Health Personnel Act does not give parents the right to refuse a blood transfusion on behalf of children on the basis of their own convictions, according to a guide prepared by Oslo University Hospital.
Jehovah’s witnesses respect the country’s laws, is the impression of religious psychologist Hege Kristin Ringnes. She has a doctorate in Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the religious group’s demands to refuse blood transfusions are among the topics she has delved into.
“The important thing for Jehovah’s Witnesses is to obey Jehovah, but they follow the laws of the various lands. They do not kidnap their child and go somewhere out of the reach of the authorities, for example,” she says.
What the story of Joshua illustrates in that study article is that one should be willing to die for Jehovah by refusing medical treatment, an obedience that is rewarded with resurrection, is her impression.
The contents of this article are official teachings that all active Jehovah’s Witnesses relate to when they meet for Bible study in the congregation, she points out.
“Are automatically expelled”
If an unbaptized child receives a blood transfusion, it will have no consequences for their connection to the religious community, according to Jan Frode Nilsen. But baptized members who accept blood without remorse, regardless of the situation, are automatically expelled, he claims.
“It is considered that one has disassociated,” he says, and refers to the elders’ book of Jehovah’s Witnesses. If you regret or have received blood against your will, the situation is different, according to Hege Kristin Ringnes.
“It can be unpleasant mentally to have blood. An image that is often used, which is a group expression, is that it is compared to a rape. At the same time, one does not lose the chances of survival, because Jehovah reads the hearts, and one is supported in the church and moves on in life,” she says.
In the internal literature and communication of Jehovah’s Witnesses about refusing blood transfusions, the general and underlying message is that there is little risk of not accepting this treatment, Ringnes’ research shows.
“It is said that blood treatment is risky, and there is no direct mention that one can die as a consequence of refusing blood transfusion,” she says.
For several days, Vårt Land has been in constant contact with the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding the allegations made in this article. The religious group said they do not have the opportunity to comment on the matter until next week.
Also in the mid-1990’s, Jehovah’s Witnesses were subjected to similar criticism. In the religious group’s worldwide revival magazine “AWAKE!” they presented “three now deceased children who refused blood transfusions as martyrs and role models for young, Norwegian Jehovah’s Witnesses”, wrote VG.
The then head of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ hospital liaison committee in Norway, confirmed in a letter to VG that a witness who has had a blood transfusion can be expelled – if the witness does not show remorse.
To die for their faith because you are resurrected anyway is very dark and frightening.Jan Frode Nilsen
Jehovah’s Witnesses are a religious group. They learn that the Bible was written by God (Jehovah), with the help of writers under God’s direction. Therefore, the Bible is understood as the infallible and trustworthy word of God and the only necessary guide in all matters of life.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not accept blood transfusions primarily for religious reasons. They believe both the Old and New Testaments are clear that they should stay away from blood. This is justified, among other things, by the texts in Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:10; Deuteronomy 12:23 and Acts 15:28, 29 (New World Translation of Jehovah’s Witnesses)
Jehovah’s Witnesses were established in the United States in the 1870’s, first as a Bible study group. Eventually it developed into a religious group under the leadership of Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916).
According to its own statistics, by 2020 Jehovah’s Witnesses were active in 240 lands and had 8,424,185 members (active publishers) in 120,387 congregations. Children and others who are not active preachers are not counted.