Blood Conservation

Learn more about blood history at the PBS educational website Red Gold the epic story of blood

“Blood is that fragile scarlet tree we carry within us.”
(Osbert Sitwell,
English Writer, 1892 - 1969)
“Imhotep is the first of a physician to stand out clearly from the mists of antiquity.”
(Sir William Osler,
Canadian physician considered the father of modern medicine, 1849 - 1919)
“A pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood.”
(General George S Patton,
1885 - 1945)
“For the life of the flesh is in the blood.”
(Leviticus 17:11)

The History of Blood

Blood has been interwoven with every aspect of humanity since the dawn of time. With special significance in arts, culture, wars and religion — it has been the subject of considerable inquiry and intellectual thought throughout history. However, it has only been in the last 300 years that a real understanding has begun to develop in terms of its life-sustaining – as well life-endangering – properties.

Although the real function of blood in the human system was not fully known until the fact of its circulation was established by William Harvey in 1615, from the earliest times, a singular mystery has been attached to it all by all peoples. Blood rites, blood ceremonies and blood feuds are common among primitive tribes. It came to be recognized as the principle of life long before it was scientifically proved to be. A feeling of fear, awe and reverence would be attached to the shedding of blood. Blood brotherhood or blood friendship is established by mutual shedding of blood. Thus, and by, the inter-transfusion of blood by other means it was thought that a community of life and interest could be established.

Notwithstanding the ignorance and superstition surrounding blood, in Hebrew customs and the Old Testament it grew to have more than merely human significance; blood became vested with cleansing, atonement, redemption and reverently symbolic qualities. As in the transition from ancient to Hebrew practice, so from the Old Testament to the New Testament there is an exaltation of blood as equated with life, and shedding of it as justice. In Abraham’s covenant his own blood had to be shed. The dignifying of this idea finds its highest development then in the vicarious shedding of blood by Christ himself, and the atonement for sins of all mankind. Christianity views blood as symbolizing life but the symbolic drinking of blood is a Christian remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice in order to win eternal life for man.

Biblical scholars have coined the principle of progressive revelations with doctrine that includes blood and religious law. Even to this day, this doctrine is reflected among the practice of Jews of eating only Kosher foods, that is, meat which is killed in such a way that all of the blood was either drained or washed from its body. The significance of this Biblical law is in the declaration of the preciousness of blood, due to the interrelationship of life and blood, and consequently the preparation of the Israelites for the atoning work of the Messiah. In Islam, blood is viewed as symbolic of life, and the Quran prohibits drinking blood, and requires that all blood must be drained from slaughtered animals; similarly to take benefit from any part of a human (including blood or organs) without a need is unlawful. Contemporary Muslim jurists agree that while blood transfusion for medical purposes is permissible, it is only for circumstances wherein a medical expert (this should be a Muslim physician preferably) stipulate that this is the only cure and recovery without it will not be possible. Jehovah’s Witnesses have interpreted Biblical law with respect to the concept of blood and life as a prohibition from taking blood in any form; including the modern practice of transfusion.

Medical Milestones in the Discovery of Blood

3000 B.C. – The Egyptian priest and physician, Imhotep, described the function of vital organs, and determined that life was sustained by circulation of the blood system.

300 B.C. – The famous Greek physician, Hippocrates became the first to attempt to separate the practice of medicine from religion and superstition. His Hippocratic Corpus – an encyclopedia of essays attributed to him but actually written by numerous authors – assigned personality traits to the relative abundance of four humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile.

169 A.D.Galen of Pergamum, a prominent Greek physician, demonstrated that arteries carried blood, not air, as was previously thought. His theories continued to influence the practice of medicine will into the 17th century and included, unfortunately, bloodletting as a standard treatment procedure.

1628 – English physician, William Harvey, published his book explaining how blood was pumped from the heart throughout the body, returned to the heart and then recirculated. While controversial at the time, his views became the basis for all modern research on the blood, heart and circulatory system.

1667Jean-Baptiste Denys reported the first successful transfusions of blood from sheep to humans with two patients he claimed were cured of lethargy and insanity. Following the death of a subsequent patient, however, first France – and then the rest of Europe – banned transfusions for nearly a century.

1795 to 1840 – Phillip Syng Physick performs the first human blood transfusion in 1795. Physicians in both England and the United States reported successful human-to-human transfusions culminating in the first whole blood transfusion by Samuel Armstrong Lane in London for the treatment of hemophilia.

1867 – Joseph Lister formulates antiseptic theory greatly adding to the safety of blood transfusion.

1901Karl Landsteiner, an Austrian physician, greatly advanced the safety of transfusions by documenting the three major markers for human blood groups, A, B and O. He later received the Nobel Price for a minor marker named after its discovery in Rhesus monkeys, Rh, which further increased blood safety.

1903 – Vienna surgeon, Dr. Adolph Lorenz, demonstrated “bloodless” surgery at the annual meeting of the American Medical Association in New Orleans. Developed of necessity in response to his allergic reaction to carbolic acid used in operating rooms, his approach employed non-invasive techniques.

1912 – Rueben Ottenberg coins terms “universal donor” for type O blood, and “universal recipient” for type AB+ blood.

1914 – Richard Lowenstein reports use of citrate for long-term blood anticoagulation. A year later Richard Weil develops refrigeration and storage.

1939 to 1945 – During WW II, transfusion was used for the first time to treat battlefield victims, clearly establishing their safety and life-saving value. This prompted creation of a U.S. civilian blood donor service by the American Red Cross for the purpose of collecting blood and plasma for use in the war effort.

1943 – Dr. Paul Beeson published his classic description of hepatitis transference from donor to recipient in the Journal of the American Medical Association presaging today’s critical concerns over the risk of transfusion transmitted disease.

1962 – Approximately 3,300 hospital blood banks, 123 community blood banks and 55 American Red Cross blood centers were reportedly collecting up to six million units of blood per year.

1996 and 1997 – In response to a rise in blood-borne pathogens and the availability of new technologies for detecting their presence, the United States Government issued reports noting problems with the safety of the nation’s blood supply and suggesting methods and procedures for improving it.

2007 – More than 100 Centers for Bloodless Medicine and Surgery are located in the U.S. and over 75,000 practitioners are reportedly committed to the practice of bloodless surgery in response to the demand created by individuals requesting it based on their religious beliefs or desire for higher standards of safety and improvements in the quality of patient care.

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Blood Through History

Blood is shed for atonement and redemption throughout the Old and New Testaments

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Blood is shed for atonement and redemption throughout the Old and New Testaments

Galen is a famous Greek physician that assigned personality traits to the relative abundance of four humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile.

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Galen is a famous Greek physician that assigned personality traits to the relative abundance of four humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile.

Galen Theories of Blood
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Galen's theories continued to influence the practice of medicine well into the 17th century and included, unfortunately, bloodletting as a standard treatment procedure.

Ancient History of Blood
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Performed by Jean-Baptiste Denys, the first successful transfusions were from sheep to humans.

Ancient History of Blood

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George Washington's death from pneumonia was hastened by the allopathic medicine practice of bloodletting.

History of Blood in War Time

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More than 13 million units of blood were collected by the Red Cross for use in WW II.