Jehovah’s Witnesses


SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT

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“But we think it proper to hear from you what your thoughts are, for truly as regards this sect it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against.”—Acts 28:22

 

Were vaccinations ever prohibited?
(Translated from Spanish.)

"Jehovah's Witnesses have no objection to vaccines in general. Some vaccines contain minor blood fractions, and use of these is a matter of personal choice." http://jw-media.org/aboutjw/article02.htm#vaccines

Some critics have erroneously claimed that publications of Jehovah's Witnesses prohibited the use of vaccines from 1931 to 1952, and that they were permitted later. Apparently, they use this claim in an attempt to discredit our present position on blood transfusions, making the connection directly or indirectly that our position on vaccinations was equal to, and as firm as, our position on blood, and therefore the later will also change. It is also a matter of presenting the image that Jehovah's Witnesses do not have any credibility on medical matters.

Response
Many detractors of Jehovah's Witnesses demonstrate negligence when not checking original documents to verify the validity of their statements.

For example, the statement that as late as the 1950's Jehovah's Witnesses taught that a Christian should not get vaccinated is easily proved false. As early as 1944, their publishing arm, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, required all of their representatives to be vaccinated.

In 1944-45, Alexander H. Macmillan was encouraging Jehovah's Witnesses imprisoned because of their being conscientious objectors to be vaccinated. He wrote: "One of the more serious problems I had to deal with was vaccinations. Some of our boys in one prison . . . refused to submit . . . I told them, We're wasting time talking about the evils of vaccination because much could be said both ways . . . Furthermore, all of us who visit our foreign branches are vaccinated or we stay at home." (Alexander H. Macmillan, Faith on the March, pp. 188, 189) (italics added). Also it is notable the fact that, of the approximately 4,300 Witnesses imprisoned in U.S. prisons during World War II (according to Cushman R.AND., Civil Liberties in the OR.S. p. 96-97, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N.AND. 1956; Zygmunt J.F. Jehovah' s Witnesses in the USES 1942-1976. Social Compass 24, 47, 1977), this group alone refused to accept the obligatory vaccinations.

Since a number of individual Witnesses continued rejecting vaccines (apparently because they considered it to be unscriptural), the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses saw the need to set the matter straight. This was done in The Watchtower of December 15, 1952 in its "Questions From Readers" section, which stated in part: "The matter of vaccination is one for the individual that has to face it to decide for himself." Then after considering some relevant scriptures, Genesis 6:1-4, 9:4 and Leviticus 17:10-14, 18:23, 24, it stated: "Hence all objection to vaccination on Scriptural grounds seems to be lacking."

Up to this point, we can easily see the falsehood that Jehovah's Witnesses were prohibited from accepting vaccines throughout the 1950's. But, had it been previously prohibited? Why did some think that the use of vaccines were unscriptural? Why do they say that vaccines were prohibited in 1931?

This claim originated in an article that appeared in the February 4, 1931 issue of their magazine The Golden Age, in which scriptural reasons were used indicating the rejection of vaccines. While the article certainly exists, the critics usually do not mention the whole truth of the matter. The article was not an editorial article, that is to say, the publisher of the magazine did not write it, instead it was a contribution of a certain Chat A. Pattillo of Virginia (EE.UU.). The publisher did not specify if he agreed or not with the opinion of Mr. Patillo, and it is a significant fact that the article was presented like a mere contribution of someone foreign to the magazine. The matter was not presented like a prohibition, but as an opinion that could help make a personal decision.

Not less significant it is the fact that, apparently, The Watchtower never mentioned the subject. The Watchtower was until 1940 the only internal publication for Jehovah's Witnesses, where they treated Biblical matters of greater importance for the Witnesses, while the magazine The Golden Age was a publication for the public that touched more on general matters, in a way similar to the modern magazine and successor Awake!. No critic has been capable of showing any mention against vaccines neither in The Watchtower nor in any other publication aside from The Golden Age. No indication exists that the use of vaccines was considered as serious as to deserve any type of disciplinary measures—certainly not disfellowshipping. Really, the position on the matter was very different from the present position regarding blood.

On the other hand, the opinion that vaccines could represent a violation of divine law on blood is understandable considering that the serum of some vaccines was produced in animal blood. It is therefore very important to consider the historical context of this and other articles in The Golden Age.

This takes us to another question: aside from the article by Mr. Patillo (in The Golden Age of February 4, 1931), very critical commentaries about vaccines, not from a Biblical point of view but from a medical point of view, were included on several occasions. Were those somewhat unwarranted comments of ignorant people, like the enemies of Jehovah's Witnesses focus on?

Probably the first time that a critical opinion was mentioned on vaccines was in The Golden Age of October 12, 1921, and the last negative mention was in the Consolation (successor of The Golden Age) magazine, of May 31, 1939. It was not a frequently treated subject; appointments are found, the majority of them brief, once each year or every other year on average (which is not a lot for a magazine that was published every other week).

Our detractors do not put these things in their proper perspective. They do not have in consideration the common understanding that many other people besides the Witnesses had at that time. Vaccination was highly controversial in its early development, with valid arguments and reputable authorities on both sides. Against vaccinations were people like,

  1. The respected naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace.
  2. Professor Charles Creighton, who wrote an article against vaccinations in the 1888 Encyclopedia Britannica.ftn1
  3. The famous writer George Bernard Shaw.

The publications of Jehovah's Witnesses endeavored to present updated and current medical information to its readers, and in justice cannot be criticized any more than scientists and other religious authorities of the time.

What was the thinking in regards to inoculations and vaccinations in the early 20th century? What was the method that was used to inoculate people? The main method through the 19th century, and into the early 20th century, was to infect a person with a variant of one "mild" (or weakened) strain of the virus; later, the infected person was to return after seven days when the pustules appeared on them; the pustule or scab was scraped off and was used to directly infect another person, who would then return in seven days. Now, who today would accept this procedure to be done on them and their children? Therefore, perhaps putting the comments of The Golden Age in their proper historical perspective can help one to see how blind and stubborn some of our critics can be in their campaigns against Jehovah's Witnesses:

In a classic understatement, the 1959 Encyclopedia Britannica, under the heading "Vaccine Therapy," stated:

"At mid-20th century, adequate statistical data concerning the effectiveness in humans of some of the virus vaccines was still lacking."

In 1913, the British National Anti-Vaccination League (of which Alfred Russel Wallace, mentioned above, was a member) published a booklet entitled Is vaccination a Disastrous Delusion? The booklet condemned the practice as "a monstrous and indefensible outrage upon the common sense and sacred personal rights of every human being, and especially every Englishman."

The writer George Bernard Shaw, mentioned above, a former member of the Health Committee of London Borough Council, published statements like the following, among others: "The obligatory vaccination is a crime and should be punished as such. ...The vaccine kills more people than smallpox." (From the article Vaccination is a crime, taken from the magazine Naturalism, of Barcelona). "At present, intelligent people do not have their children vaccinated, nor does the law now compel them to. The result is not, as the Jennerians prophesied, the extermination of the human race by smallpox; on the contrary more people are now killed by vaccination than by smallpox." (Published in the Irish Times of August 9, 1944) (italics added).

In the autumn of 1901, in Philadelphia, there were no fewer than thirty-six cases of tetanus, or lockjaw, which were admitted to have resulted from vaccination, and nearly all were fatal. After a study of these and fifty-nine similar cases, a prominent Philadelphian physician and professor, Joseph McFarland, an ardent defender of vaccinations, came to the conclusion that—even where the utmost precautions had been taken—the danger lay in the transmission into the vaccine itself of the disease-causing agent (namely, as we know today, the presence of a virus in the vaccine). Then, ignoring the fact that the disease-causing agent was in the very fluid discharged from diseased sores, and that the agent was still left dangerously in tact (insufficiently weakened) in the vaccine prepared from the discharge, he still ignorantly recommended preparation of the vaccine, this despite the fact that the medical science of his day was not equal to effectual implementation of his recommendation that greater care be used in preparing the vaccine (John Pitcairn, The Fallacy Of Vaccination, 1911, citing of Joseph McFarland, Tetanus And Vaccination – An Analytical Study Of Ninety-five Cases Of This Rare Complication, 1902).

In England and Wales we find that, from 1881 to 1907, the Registrar-General reported 1,108 deaths from vaccination, the deaths averaging one every week during the first sixteen years (The Register Report of Births. Deaths and Marriages in England and Wales, vols. XLIV-LXX). Bear in mind that these 1,108 deaths are all admitted, by those performing vaccinations, to have been due to vaccination. In this matter, Professor Alfred Wallace said that in England and Wales alone vaccination is the probable cause every year for 10,000 deaths—deaths by five diseases of the most terrible and disgusting character, introduced by the vaccine virus (Alfred Russell Wallace. LL.D., Forty-Five Years Of Registration Statistics, Proving Vaccination To Be Both Useless And Dangerous, second edition, London, 1889, p. 38).

Safer forms of vaccination were just being developed in the early 20th century. It was not until 1931 that Woodruff and Goodpasture used the chicken egg as a culture medium for many viruses (Woodruff, A. and E. Goodpasture, The susceptibility of the chorio-allantoic membrane of chick embryos to infection with the fowl-pox virus, 1931. A.m. J. Path. 7:209-222). Further, it was not until the early 1950's that Jonas Salk developed a safer and more effective vaccine (Jane Smith, Patenting The Sun). For instance, it was not until 1954 that large scale tests were done on Salk's vaccines, proving their effectiveness.

Conclusion
Much more data and many more opinions of the time could be mentioned, but presented here is enough to show that Jehovah's Witnesses were totally justified in the Twenties and Thirties to have a negative opinion on this subject. It is not coherent to criticize them alone by a position shared by many other people, even religious ministers of other confessions; and what was stated on them in our publications was echoed elsewhere as concern was common at the time (even in modern times many voices are raised against vaccination procedures).

These attacks usually finish with a melodramatic allusion to Jehovah's Witnesses who supposedly died for refusing to accept a vaccination (again trying to establish a parallel with the abstinence to blood transfusions). Already we have shown that no official position existed nor were disciplinary measures taken. However, can anyone give the name of a single Jehovah's Witness who died for rejecting a vaccination? Even if someone could offer a name or a statistic, even approximate, it would have to be contrasted with those who actually died from accepting vaccinations! We can only imagine how many people in those years were infected with poliomyelitis and other avoidable illnesses, and how many actually died of tetanus, rabies, influenza, or other infections due to vaccinations. Of course, it would be unfair to blame these deaths on the clergy who collectively promoted vaccinations, since at the time many of them were actually stating the same thing as the Witnesses.

It is sad that our critics do not publish these facts. Need we wonder why? Only two reasons are possible: they are ignorant or they deliberately deceive and desire to draw to others into ignorance. Regardless, as with the organ transplant issue, the vaccination issue is used to promote a lack of understanding and intolerance.


Footnotes

1. "Dr. Charles Creighton M.A. M.D section on 'Vaccination' in the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, published in 1888" is seen here: www.whale.to/a/creighton4.html. (back)


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