Is it true that the Watchtower Society, the parent organization for the Jehovah's Witnesses, has made a change in its long-standing policy on prohibiting blood transfusions?
Yes, and the implications for Jehovah's Witnesses (JW's) are staggering. For those who may not know, JW's believe that blood transfusions are expressly forbidden by God and that to receive one is akin to committing spiritual suicide. They would rather die--or even allow a family member to die--than receive one. Their belief comes from an erroneous understanding of the Old Testament prohibitions against eating blood (cf. Gn 9:4, Lv 17:10-14; notice that it's animal blood being spoken of) and the New Testament admonition to abstain from blood for the sake of not offending another's conscience (cf. Acts 15:29).
The policy change occurred in 1998 for JWs in Bulgaria, where their status as a religion was threatened because of their prohibition against transfusions. With an earlier law in mind, the Bulgarian government viewed this prohibition as a danger to public health and threatened to deny their status as a religion. The JWs reacted by taking the Bulgarian government before the European Human Rights Commission (EHRC). In a communique issued by the EHRC Secretary, the JW leadership in Bulgaria claimed that JWs have "free choice in the matter" and--more importantly--that there are "no religious sanctions for a Jehovah's Witness who chooses to accept blood transfusions" (emphasis added).
This alleged lack of sanctions is a 180-degree turn by the WTS, since its longstanding policy was articulated as follows:
According to the law of Moses, which set forth shadows of things to come, the receiver of a blood transfusion must be cut off from God's people by excommunication or disfellowshiping. . . As a rebellious opposer and unfaithful example to fellow members of the Christian congregation he must be cut off therefrom by disfellowshiping. (The Watchtower, January 15, 1961, p. 64)
It should be noted that disfellowshiping for a JW means a complete shunning by all other JW's, including family members. He or she effectively becomes totally cut off from all religious and even social ties, as the majority of a JW's friends and associates typically are fellow JW's.
As a result of this change in doctrine, one can only conclude that (a) the WTS has different standards for its members, depending on where they live (a similar change does not apply for JWs elsewhere), (b) the WTS intentionally misrepresented its policy to circumvent the difficulty with the Bulgarian government, or (c) this change is yet another example of mutating doctrines of the WTS. Any way you view it, this change is clearly problematic.