Dead Man Walking: The Story of Phil Dunne, Survivor of Watchtower’s Blood Ban
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Phil Dunne, pictured here receiving treatment in hospital, survived to regret refusing a blood transfusion

In my five years as an ex-JW activist, I have had the privilege of interviewing some truly remarkable, inspirational people – including brave survivors of child molestation and domestic violence.

Each person I have interviewed has enriched my knowledge of my former religion by letting me see firsthand the profound damage that can be inflicted through rules and prohibitions I once considered sacred, God-ordained and beneficial.

But none of these interviews could prepare me for the time I sat down to speak with Phil Dunne one sunny afternoon in Zagreb in September 2016. You see, this is an interview that should never have happened.

Phil was raised as a Witness after his mother converted, and got baptized at 17. Just three years later, he was married to a fellow believer. But the young couple’s wedded bliss was shattered soon after they moved to California as Phil’s health began to dramatically deteriorate.

Things came to a head one evening when Phil passed out in a seizure on his bathroom floor and it was discovered that a tumor had punched a hole in his stomach. Diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the blood, he was told he would die within “a couple of days” without a blood transfusion.

As highlighted at last year’s 2016 “Remain Loyal to Jehovah” convention series, Jehovah’s Witnesses faced with this news are expected to decline treatment and make the ultimate sacrifice for their beliefs. And as a true believer, Phil was no different.

Despite repeated pleas from his doctors, who offered to give him concealed transfusions so that none of his JW visitors would know, Phil resolved that he would sooner die than live with the guilt of secretly accepting a transfusion. He told me that being heralded as a hero who “miraculously” survived while staying loyal to the command on blood would have tormented him, leaving him feeling like a fraud.

And so, with his mind made up, and even an informal will written out detailing his final wishes, Phil awaited the inevitable.

Only, in Phil’s case, death never came.

The team of doctors treating Phil came up with a drastic strategy that had minimal chances of success, but which, given Phil’s insistence on refusing blood, was at least better than trying nothing.

Phil’s tumor was thus pummelled with intense radiation over 10 straight days and, to the delight of all concerned, this had the intended effect of shrinking it just enough for the stomach wound to be cauterised, thus stopping the internal bleeding. With the immediate threat neutralized, Phil could begin receiving chemotherapy for his condition and was able to make a full recovery.

Phil’s “miraculous” return to health – unquestionably the product of the ingenuity of medical professionals who had partaken of higher education – was lauded by his congregation, and Phil was heralded as someone who had been blessed for standing firm in his convictions. But as the applause dissipated, Phil privately sank into an existential crisis.

What if he had died from refusing blood? What if, instead of being born into a life as a Jehovah’s Witness, he had been born in another part of the world where an entirely different set of religious beliefs held sway? What if the beliefs he had been raised with were in fact based on lies and had very nearly resulted in his untimely demise?

Phil set about carefully studying his religion, determined to confirm whether or not the stand he had taken in hospital was justified. When he revisited the Watchtower publications that had formed the bedrock of his faith with a critical, analytical eye, he found that they were strewn with misquotes, exaggerations and outright untruths.

Phil’s faith collapsed and, soon thereafter, his marriage – since his wife refused to entertain any of the information he uncovered.

As Phil distanced himself from his religion, he began missing meetings. This had the knock-on effect of him being pre-emptively shunned by former Witness friends and family who began to think of him as “bad association.”

Phil has found happiness and inner peace after awakening from his indoctrination

Fast forward to a holiday to Croatia in 2016 and, during our encounter on the sun-kissed streets of Zagreb, Phil (not yet disfellowshipped) felt the time was right to share his incredible story, which now features on pages 516 to 520 of my book, The Reluctant Apostate.

I will never forget the overwhelming feeling of admiration at seeing Phil open up so candidly about his experience. I also continue to feel profoundly fortunate at getting the opportunity to meet this brave man at all given the fact that, according to the laws of probability, Phil should no longer be alive.

Without the intervention of an incredibly gifted group of medical professionals, and a sizeable chunk of sheer luck, Phil would be just another statistic in the unfathomable body count arising from Watchtower’s reckless, hypocritical and unjustified stance on blood.

As for what’s next for Phil, the world is now his oyster. He is emerging from his JW experience a little worse for wear due to depression arising from the trauma of his near miss, but he has zero regrets and the future looks bright.

I for one am delighted to have met him, and I am sure his story will inspire many to reject the madness of putting religious fanaticism first and human life second.

Who knows? His story may even end up saving lives.

 

Author of The Reluctant Apostate, now available from Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

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27 Responses to Dead Man Walking: The Story of Phil Dunne, Survivor of Watchtower’s Blood Ban

  1. exjwlemming says:

    Lloyd, thank you for sharing this story with the ex-JW community. It’s a story, like many others, that needs to be told. I am one chapter away from finishing your book. Likewise, I have enjoyed reading your story in The Reluctant Apostate. It has touched me in many ways. Keep up the good work. There are many that have the circumstances to be awaken from this controlling and abusive cult. Some will never be “Awake.”

  2. John Plummer says:

    Very interesting article. Re the link to jwfacts and the Watchtower’s “reckless, hypocritical and unjustified stance on blood”, I wish Paul Grundy and others would give more attention to the Witnesses’ pre 1945 position.

    The technique of transfusing blood successfully was mastered in the year 1916. It is reasonable to assume that, from that time onward, Jehovah’s Witnesses were giving and receiving blood just like everyone else. But if having a blood transfusion is such a serious offence that a Witness can be disfellowshipped for having one, why would Jehovah wait 29 years after 1916 before providing “increasing light” on this subject in the July 1st, 1945 Watchtower? From Jehovah’s point of view why was it acceptable to have a blood transfusion up to June 30, 1945, but not the next day?

    The February 15, 2006 Watchtower describes “increasing light” as Jehovah’s way of “refining” His people “organizationally, doctrinally and morally.” If He was truly interested in keeping His people “refined” on this issue why didn’t He provide this “light” in 1916 or earlier? From Jehovah’s point of view what is the status of Jehovah’s Witnesses who are alive today solely because they had a blood transfusion before 1945?

    Jehovah’s Witnesses demand that people in other religions examine the evidence for the truthfulness of their religion’s doctrine. I demand that Jehovah’s Witnesses practise what they preach!

    • ScenicViewer says:

      I wish Paul Grundy and others would give more attention to the Witnesses’ pre 1945 position.

      I would like to know more about Watchtower’s pre-1945 position on blood too. There was at least one favorable remark toward transfusion in the Consolation magazine, Dec 25, 1940, page 19.

      It said…
      “…one of the attending physicians in the great emergency gave a quart of his blood for transfusion, and today the woman lives and smiles gaily over what happened to her in the busiest 23 minutes of her life.”

      The brief experience shows the positive, happy result of accepting blood. We are not told if the woman who received blood was a Jehovah’s Witness or not, but there must surely have been some Witnesses who took blood prior to the blood ban.

    • Elijah says:

      If Jehovah was truly worried about refining his people and wanting to be on top of things, yes, the WT would’ve come out with something around 1916 forbidden blood transfusions. But as with most doctrinal laws they follow, it had everything to do with who was in charge at the time.

  3. alanv says:

    Yes that is certainly one experience that will not be told at the next regional convention. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  4. Ted says:

    It’s great to know Phil is alive and well after his ordeal,
    thanks I’m sure to his fighting spirit and the skill and
    dedication of the medical professionals, who did not
    give up on him even when things looked desperate.

    Those professionals have a genuine respect for the
    immense value of life. They are the true Good Samaritans.

    The org, is now well aware of the flaws in this blood doctrine
    and that it’s Fred Franz’s law and not Gods. They’d dearly
    like to jettison it, but that would be disastrous
    for them. They also know that medical science is trying
    to come up with a substitute that would carry oxygen, just
    like real blood. I’m sure they’re banking on this to get them
    out of the fix that Franz has gotten them into. —>

    The prohibition would still stand but it would not create
    the life or death issues that it now does.

  5. It’s great when a person is willing to die for something meaningful, based on truth, but horrible if it’s based on a lie, which renders the death meaningless. I find no merit in the history of dying for religion, for freedom to embrace it sure, but nor to uphold it as the key to salvation.
    Dying for one’s personally held convictions, morals and individual safety, even to protect another is noble. I can’t get behind dying for a god. Shouldn’t he be saving lives?

  6. label licker says:

    Glad to see Phil is alive and well. I am a cancer survivor as well and took the blood transfusions. I had two thirds of my liver removed (liver resection) along with the gallbladder. Had to have chemo to shrink the tumor and even then, the surgeon said he didn’t think he could do it and wouldn’t know until they opened me up.
    The way I see it, I leave it up to the doctors to do what they were trained to do. Also, the blood I received was not from a dead person but someone who was alive and walked away after donating their blood. The blood that was poured out onto the ground was after the person or animal was dead after being sacrificed.(such as animals before the alter or Jesus)
    So glad to be alive and given another chance to live. The doctors say I was a miracle and should have been dead. The cancer mass was huge and the operation was over eight and a half hours long.
    If you are a Jehovah’s Witness, please do your research!

    • label licker says:

      Doesn’t the bible state that god wants mercy and not sacrifice??????Matthew 9:13;Matthew 12:7 and Hosea 6:6.

      • messenger says:

        @label licker

        In the verses before Matt 12:7, the ones from Matt 12:3-6 Christ agreed their actions were appropriate when David and his men broke the Jewish law, by going into the temple, taking the loaves of presentation and eating those (because they were hungry). Jewish law was definitely broken, but Christ spoke of those actions as being appropriate. David and his men were hungry, not dying; yet Christ approved their actions, which again were violations of Jewish law.

        Also, when the prohibition about blood was given it didn’t reference Jews eating human blood-that’s why it said not to eat things strangled, they were commanded not to eat animal blood. Why? Because it was a symbol. To them it represented the life in the animal that was given by God. Simple logic, which is more important, life, or something labeled as representing life?

        Another point: After the elders in Jerusalem imposed the restrictions against blood, things sacrificed to idols, and fornication then Paul wrote that eating or refraining from eating meat sacrificed to idols was merely a matter of conscience. If you check Paul’s words about that matter he implies that a Christian that feels he is sinning by eating meat sacrificed to idols is an immature Christian, one possessing a conscience that condemns him for doing something that is not viewed as sinful in God’s eyes.

        The WT knows all these things. If we know these things, WT know them. WT could have reasoned on these points and allowed for blood transfusions, as they did before its ban. Instead WT chose to take a scripture which commands Christians not to eat animal blood, because life is in the blood, and command its members to give their lives up as a gesture to God. Is doing so, is it a gesture to God, or a gesture to WT? With all its rules is WT now Elohim? If they are not in whose authority do they make all these rules?

        If WT makes the rules in Christ’s authority, as it claims, then wouldn’t WT’s decisions be in line with Christ’s teaching about David eating the loaves of presentation? Though it was against the law Christ sided with David’s breaking the law for a reason Christ obviously viewed to be more important than David keeping the law. If, as some believe-but I don’t know, WT is afraid to revisit this issue, and change their position on it, merely because of possible lawsuits and not for scriptural reasons, if that’s true, then they are making their decisions in Satan’s authority and not God’s authority.

        • outandabout says:

          Life may very well be in the blood, messenger, but it’s also in the liver, kidney’s, heart, lungs….in fact the whole thing works together as a whole and one part can’t do without the other. This whole thing about blood being sacred is based on the sheer ignorance of the workings of the human body at that time.
          Blood would have been seen as sacred because it would have been noticed that if you lost it, you died. Fair enough. But…if by chance our bodies where arranged so that we could easily lose, say, our livers, and our livers fell on the ground now and again and it was observed that we died as a result, it would be ‘thou shall not take liver’ as well as ‘thou shall not take blood’. Thou shall not take anything that is essential to keeping a body alive, is what it adds up to.
          You have to learn to think like an ignorant and superstitious cave man in order to understand these ancient beliefs, but don’t think too hard though, aye. Atheism awaits the unwary.
          Cheers.

      • John Plummer says:

        Depends which scriptures you choose. Try the first 9 chapters of Leviticus – one long orgy of God-ordered sacrifice, killing and smearing of blood!

  7. Tara. says:

    Wonderful to hear both Phil and Label’s stories. I am sure there are many more and I am grateful that my own baby granddaughter is alive after receiving blood transfusions while she was a preemie. Everyone who has come out of the Borg is a survivor.. and we must celebrate each one as life saved 🙂

  8. Pat says:

    Great interview Lloyd. I am forever grateful I never had to face the blood issue when I was a true believer in WT, either for myself or my family. Interesting to read about pre 1945 as mentioned in other posts.

  9. Thanx John for sharing with us all, Phils story. So glad Phil survived and has been able to be freed of an oppressive religion and their false teachings. I have as yet to research on the earlier allowance of taking blood by Wts….I have not thrown away my “No Blood Card” as yet…Just placed it in my wallet as a “Bad memory” of being a Jw…along with my Restraining Order against my First Husband, a Jw, and an abusive person… along with letters to Elders I encountered along my journey…some good…most not…All the best to Phil and Label…

    • Winston Smith says:

      Removing the blood card is a big step in the awakening process. Such a small thing in reality, but full of meaning. It’s like you are saying, “I am really done with all this.” I think mine has been gone from my wallet for about 2 years now.

      WS

  10. label licker says:

    1 Samuel 14:32 reads: They pounced on the plunder and taking sheep, cattle and calves, they butchered them on the ground and ate them together with the blood.
    God did not punish them for that. Instead Saul felt bad and told the people to bring their oxen and sheep to him and slaughter them there. Then he built an alter to god.
    This proves to me that it’s up to the individual as to what they will do concerning the blood issue. God left it up to Saul to decide for himself. No one should judge anyone. It’s a whole different ball game when you are fighting for your life because you want to live. No one wants to die especially under a bunch of men who have the nerve to lie to their followers as well as the courts. The scriptures say that out of the seven things that god detests is lying. I will never put my life into the hands of a bunch of liars ever again. I have more faith in the doctors who will tell you the truth whether they can save you or not.
    The governing body of jw.org will be held accountable more so for lying and misleading their followers. How sad for them to get whats coming to them!

  11. label licker says:

    At ten years of age, I had to watch my brother, Timothy die at Sick Childrens Hospital in Toronto, On. He needed a blood transfusion and my parents were torn and let him die. Not one jw or governing body member came around to comfort us. He was only eleven years old when he took his last breath of life.
    What a loving organisation, eh?

  12. Lin/Mia says:

    Thank you Lloyd for this excellent article and your continued work to shine a light on a seemingly ‘harmless’ organisation, which Phil’s experience, as one of many, proves it is far from.

  13. messenger says:

    Thanks Lloyd. Nice to see you on the video once again.

  14. Mark Scott says:

    I’m not for the watchtower by any manner or means.But is it not the case that if Phil DID take the blood transfusion this could have interfered with the zealousness of the specialists and their expertise findings,and therefore Phil could have died?

    • messenger says:

      Lots of possibilities existed. Because Phil said he wouldn’t take a transfusion the hospital could have pushed him into a room, did nothing more than feed and dope him up, and let him to die.

      I know a lady who was the mother a JW, but was not a JW herself. I don’t know the details of why this happened, but she needed a transfusion; she didn’t get it; and the hospital just pushed her to the side in a room and let her die. They didn’t try anything. This could have happened to Phil.

      It looks like Phil had REAL doctors, ones that cared and were knowledgeable. Because of that what you suggested was possible, but probably unlikely. Doctors probably would have done their best for Phil using whatever best procedures were available. Where the rubber meets the road usually has to do with the individual(s). How good are they, and how hard do they try. Ability and a willing spirit are hard to beat, and dealing with people that don’t have those qualities brings trouble into your life.

      • Mark Scott says:

        Ive had this discussion with a jw.They point to the fact that it’s the medical experts to do their duty and responsibilities without the use of blood.And from the jw point of view this example showed that blood was not required.If Phil had died it was due to the incompetence of the medical team and that Phil was fortunate to have competent expertise on this occasion.

    • Phil D says:

      Hi, im phil dunne. PM me on reddit u/dunnekaroo if you’d like proof. If I had taken blood they could have cauterized the bleeding and got my blood levels up to start chemo. According to my oncologist this approach would have had a much higher chance of success. I was extremely lucky the alternative worked. Even the doctors said if I wasn’t a 25 year old otherwise healthy person I most likely would have died.

  15. Mark Scott says:

    Hi Phil,
    I think you misunderstand,I don’t need proof,no proof is required.I believe everything you say and certainly respect you.Im just stating what jws are saying and that is they think it’s a simple case that you received a better outcome by not taking blood.
    I hope you are well and healthy. Take care.M

  16. MY heart and tears went out further to you…Label Licker…For your family, your little brother…How terrible of an ordeal to have to go thru….and yeah, where was the Gov. Body…to pat you on the back and say well done for believing our lies! I know one is not suppose to swear on here…But those Dirty Lying Buggers! So Cruel and unfeeling! I know when my own Brother was lying near death in the hosp. took a firm stand on the blood issue…not one of them were there for him and his wife…They did it on their own…fought for that themselves…believing that it was the right thing to do….and because of not being…all up on mtngs and service etc….they are shunned, looked down as not worthy…? The Jw. org….are a bunch of self righteous Pharisees…maybe they should tie one of their holy drain covers to a piece of scarlet thread and let it dangle on their forhead to show how spiritual they are! My brother and his wife have more faith than they ever will…thank gdness they to have come to see the Orgy for what it is and no longer abide by their controlling ways! Thanx Winston for your Comment in regards to the…blood card ordeal! Has anyone one else got all sick to the stomach…shakes, sweats etc…each time you “let go”… of something that had such a force in ones life…not easy to do….realization …or wakening…how ever one calls it! But so empowering to read of anothers escape from this horrible cult! Wow! 🙂 Thanx for sharing!