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Wednesday, 14 June, 2000, 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK
Jehovah's Witnesses drop transfusion ban
Surgery
Transfusions will no longer lead to expulsion
By the BBC's Religious Affairs Correspondent Jane Little

Leaders of the Jehovah's Witnesses movement have revoked a strict ruling that their members automatically face ex-communication if they accept blood transfusions.

Jehovah's Witnesses: facts
An unorthodox Christian sect
Based in New York
6m members in more than 200 countries
Founded in 1884
They took the controversial decision at a secret meeting in New York, following years of recrimination from ex-members and non-Jehovah's Witnesses over the ban.

The religious community insists that receiving blood is still wrong.

But under the changes, transfusions have been relegated to "non-disfellowshipping events" - in other words you will not be thrown out of the religion if you have one.

That may come as cold comfort to many who have watched loved ones die because they refused blood.

Only last week, a British Jehovah's Witness who lost pints of blood in a machete attack, renounced his faith at the last minute so that he could have the transfusion which saved his life.

Climbdown or procedural change?

But if this looks like a major climbdown, a spokesman for the organisation - also called Watch Tower - insisted it was merely a procedural change.

He said not taking blood remains a biblical injunction and a core tenet of the faith.

If a member has a transfusion, they will, by their actions disassociate themselves from the religion. The ruling emphasises personal choice, he said.

He added that if they repented afterwards, they would be offered spiritual comfort and the possibility of redemption.

But the distinction between what in other words amounts to resigning rather than being sacked, does seem to be a major shift.

Jehovah's Witnesses, who number six million worldwide, have suffered years of adverse publicity over blood transfusions.

It now looks like they quietly want to downplay this issue and to emphasise less controversial elements of the faith.

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