revised: July 14, 2002
The Watchtower Society has been heavily involved in occult, psychic and quack medical procedures throughout much of its history. Like their current ban on blood transfusions for its members, this past quackery has put the lives of millions unnecessarily at risk, given the average JW's faith in what the Society tells them and mistrust of what everyone else claims. Many have lost their eyesight, contracted illnesses or lost their lives following the unorthodox and bizarre Watchtower teachings on medicine. This article gives an overview of the Society's strange history of medical quackery and occultism which will be examined in more detail in coming issues of the JW Research Journal.
One of the most recognizable aspects of Jehovah's Witnesses to the general public today is not their theology, but one of their medical positions: their refusal to accept blood transfusions. Many have read or heard reports of JWs refusing a blood transfusion for themselves or their child, with the result being the tragic death of the person who refused a transfusion, perhaps while a frustrated and helpless doctor stood by.
Unknown to most outside Jehovah's Witnesse--and in many cases JWs themselves--is their long history of quack medical endorsements which put the health of millions of their followers at risk, or caused the premature deaths of perhaps thousands.
The Watchtower Society has even endorsed some of the most notorious medical quacks of the twentieth century such as Albert Abrams, George Starr White, Charles Betts, Bernarr McFadden and others. They have endorsed numerous occult, psychic and pseudoscience nostrums and cures, even inventing, promoting and selling quack medical gadgets to their followers.
The Watchtower sponsored such exotic and bizarre quackery as medical radiesthesia; radionics; the Radio-Solar Pad (a worthless and perhaps harmful device containing Radium which was worn by no less than "Judge" Rutherford, the Society's second president); Zone Therapy; Iridiagnosis; The Biological Blood Wash; The Radio Disease Killer; The Electronic Radio Biola (invented by a JW); The Grape Cure, Ensign Remedies and much more.
The Golden Age magazine
The Watchtower Society rarely published anything favorable to orthodox or scientific medicine until recently. This was especially true of The Golden Age magazine (Changed to Consolation in 1937 and to its current name Awake! in 1946). This magazine by the Society, unlike The Watchtower, was not primarily concerned with Biblical interpretation and theology. It was a news and information magazine for the general public and JWs. Numerous articles were published on the subject of health and medicine, documenting the Society's views on the subject.
Their view of scientific medicine was extremely critical and condemnatory until the 1960s when they became more accepting. Here's a typical example from a Golden Age article which extolled the virtues of Eugenics:
We do well to bear in mind that among the drugs, serums, vaccines, surgical operations, etc., of the medical profession, there is nothing of value save an occasional surgical procedure. Their whole so-called "science" grew out of Egyptian black magic and has not lost its demonological character.... we shall be in a sad plight when we place the welfare of the race in their hands. 
They not only demonized the medical profession, but the prominent individuals within the movement such as Dr. Morris Fishbein, the past president of the American Medical Association and former editor of its two periodicals, Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and Hygeia. In one Golden Age they favorably quoted a quack medical Journal that said:
The Journal of the A. M. A. is the vilest sheet that passes the United States mail.... Nothing new and useful in therapeutics escapes its unqualified condemnation. Its attacks are generally ad hominem. Its editorial columns are largely devoted to character assassination.... Its editor [Morris Fishbien] is of the type of Jew that crucified Jesus Christ. 
Just say no to drugs
The Watchtower Society condemned the use of drugs for the most part from Aspirin to Morphine until fairly recently. Aspirin they said (ironically) caused heart disease and other maladies. 
In one early Golden Age though they claimed that intravenous drug use would be common during the Millennium and that this would be used by The Christ (the 144,000 and Jesus) to help mankind become perfect, free of all diseases! 
Many are aware that the Watchtower Society campaigned against vaccinations for decades. They claimed it was "a direct violation of the everlasting covenant" and Witnesses were expected not to have one. Vaccines were said to cause all kinds of disease:
Thinking people would rather have smallpox than vaccination, because the latter sows the seed of syphilis, cancers, escema, erysipelas, scrofula, consumption, even leprosy and many other loathsome affections. Hence the practice of vaccination is a crime, an outrage and a delusion. 
Vaccinations were useless:
Vaccination has never saved a human life. It does not prevent smallpox. 
In addition to diseases, vaccinations were responsible for the spread of "demonism" and sexual immorality! [7 ] In short, vaccination was a "cruel hoax" on mankind by Satan himself.  They carried on their crusade for decades after the medical community demonstrated the value of vaccinations in preventing certain contagious diseases. No one knows what effect this ban on vaccinations had on JWs, but one assumes many lives were at least put unnecessarily at risk.
The Watchtower Society also carried on an irrational and phobic campaign against aluminum cooking ware. This was another "demonic" or Satanically inspired curse on mankind that they tried valiantly to stop. Aluminum in products, especially aluminum cookware was believed by the Society to cause all manner of ailments and disease from athlete's foot to cancer. This campaign was also carried on decades after most known popular aluminum cookware was shown not to be harmful for the general population to cook food in -- at least for the short term. No long term studies were done to my knowledge, but the Watchtrower claimed significant and immediate, negative health consequences of cooking just one meal in aluminum pans, most frequerntly, severe and sometimes deadly "aluminum" (food) poisoning.
Germs vs. constipation
The Golden Age (1919-1937) and its successor Consolation (1937-1946) magazine contained several articles against the germ theory of disease. They believed the medical profession and scientific communities that held certain germs caused disease were wrong. They believed that the germs associated with certain diseases followed the arrival of the diseases. Instead of germs causing diseases, they believed diseases caused germs. The diseases themselves were actually caused by improper diet and constipation! According to The Golden Age, if one had less than two bowel movements a day, one would get any number of diseases in short order.
Again, long after certain bacteria and viruses proved to be the cause of some diseases, The Golden Age was saying that "not a single disease" was caused by germs, that Pasteur was a "fake" and that Hydrophobia or Rabies was simply a "mental hoax". For this reason, The Golden Age and Consolation magazines advised its readers not to drink pasteurized milk, but to drink it "raw" to get the benefits of nutrients destroyed during pasteurization.
Since they didn't believe bacteria caused food poisoning, they
thought it must be the aluminum food was cooked in. Since germs
didn't cause diseases such as smallpox, having a vaccination was
viewed as simply putting "filthy pus" into ones veins. The real
culprit in disease causation they declaired was constipation!
The Watchtower Society rejected orthodox medicine until fairly recently. It has instead promoted "alternative" medical philosophies and procedures much more vigorously. The Golden Age, Consolation, and Awake! magazine articles on health were almost exclusively from an anti orthodox and pro alternative medical position. Most articles written on health in those magazines until the 1970's or so were written by alternative medical doctors, including Naturopaths, Homeopaths, Chiropractors and Osteopaths. These alternative systems of healing have completely different ideas on the cause and cure of diseases and have given rise to numerous quacks and quackeries.
Naturopathy has had a colorful history. Its basic philosophy when developed sounds harmless enough and even intuitive. Disease is the result of the body breaking down due to improper use and care (diet, etc.). Naturopathy seeks to help the body repair itself "naturally" once damaged and prevent diseases with such things as proper diet, sleep, rest, fresh air, sunshine, exercise, and so forth. They help "nature" cure by utilizing or strengthening the so-called "life force" of the person. Naturopaths have thus traditionally been concerned with nutrition, diet and exercise. In this they have in some ways been ahead of their time. However, this seemingly benign philosophy and approach has historically been frequently taken to unhealthy extremes and has laid Naturopaths open to numerous quacks and quackery, which hasn't helped current Naturopathic methods become accepted by more orthodox medicine.
Naturopathy spawned and promoted numerous quack cures and treatments in the 20th century , which was thus promoted by the Jehovah's Witnesses: The Biological Blood Wash; The Grape Cure; Iridiagnosis; Zone Therapy and more. This embracing of quackery was due to Naturopaths (and JWs) having the tendency to accept anything and everything opposed to orthodox medicine that was "natural". MDs used "unnatural" substances (vaccines, serums, drugs, etc.) to cure which went counter to Naturopathic philosophy of "natural cures". This was the reason for their (and thus JWs) futile crusades against such things as vaccinations and drugs. 
Many Naturopaths accepted the other major "drugless" schools of medicine such as Osteopathy and Chiropractic. Watchtower doctors until later in the century were mostly trained in these schools of thought.
Unlike Naturopathy which had no known founder, Osteopathy was founded by Andrew Still, the son of a Methodist missionary. Still's writings on Osteopathy are filled with religious themes and doctrines of his Methodist/Millerite faith. Still believed God Himself had inspired Osteopathy. 
The slogan of Naturopathy, "No surgery, no drugs, no serums" was adopted by all major "drugless" schools of healing including Osteopathy. Still believed that disease was caused by improper nerve function and blood supply which were in turn caused by small dislocations of the spinal vertebrae which would pinch, restrict or cut-off nerve and blood supply to the rest of the body. These dislocations he called "subluxations". By adjusting these subluxations with the hands (massage, etc.), these could correct the problem and cure the diseases that resulted from them.
In Still's textbook for the first Osteopathy school he founded, he claimed to be able to cure yellow fever, malaria, diphtheria, rickets, piles, diabetes, dandruff, constipation and obesity by simply manipulating the spinal column to eliminate "subluxations". 
Many of the doctors whose articles appeared in Society literature on health from 1919 to the 1960s were Osteopaths. The Society therefore recommended Osteopathic treatment for many ailments into the 1960s.  Today, Osteopaths have embraced some orthodox practices and now administer anethesia, prescribe drugs and even perform minor surgery. They have thus dropped to some degree their "no drugs, no serums, no surgery" stand.
Chiropractic medicine was started by Daniel Palmer. It sprang from Osteopathy and originally had the same basic philosophy: disease is caused by "subluxations" of the vertebrae of the spine pinching or constricting nerves. Chiropractic "adjustments" of the spine to correct these subluxations was touted to cure many diseases and ailments in the rest of the body. Palmer believed the "life" or "vital" force of life (which he termed the "innate" force) expressed itself through the central nervous system, which could be hindered by subluxations. [13 ]
Many Watchtower Society writers on health were Chiropractors, including A.G. Eckols who treated J.F. Rutherford's pneumonia in San Diego which led to the building of Beth-Sarim so Rutherford could spend more time in a warm, dry climate. [14 ]
Chiropractic has evolved as well through the years. It now has two main branches, usually called the "Mixers" and the "Straights". The straights being of the old school and many are still against vaccinations, drugs, surgery, etc. The mixers (who out number the straights now) now "mix" Chiropractic treatments with an acceptance of orthodox medicine and will refer patients to MDs for many medical problems rather than try and cure diseases through adjusting the spine. 
In rejecting scientifically based medicine (double-blind tests, etc.) and embracing "alternative" philosophies and the anecdotes and testimonies of laymen, the Watchtower Society promoted one quackery after the other. Most of the craziest theories and procedures of Naturopaths, Osteopaths and Chiropractors were also promoted by the Society in the early to mid 20th century. This led to the following endorsements.
Russell and Medicine
Under C. T. Russell, their first president, the Watchtower Society didn't publish a lot on the subject of health. The Watch Tower magazine was primarily concerned with theology, but when commenting on medical matters Russell had some strange things to say. In the Jan. 15, 1912, Watch Tower he announced a cure for appendicitis which he said was caused by "biting worms near the junction of the transverse colon with the small intestines, low down on the right side of the abdomen." The remedy, he said, was also good for typhoid fever "which is also a biting worm disease."  This announcement was carried just below an announcement for "Millennial Beans" which were especially prodigious beans discovered by a "Sister" in the "truth".
In 1881 Russell wrote in favor of the "Faith Cottage" Pink Cure.  In 1915, he promoted Dr. Park's cure for pneumonia which he said "seems to effect a cure every time." 
It wasn't until the publication of the news magazine, The Golden Age in 1919, however, that the Society really 'let their hair down' in terms of explaining their medical views. What they wrote is eyebrow raising today. The Golden Age's health articles reads like a who's who and a what's what in twentieth century quackery. If one wants to research the twentieth century opposition to orthodox medicine and promotion of quackery in early "alternative" therapies, The Golden Age is a good, interesting and entertaining source.
The Grape Cure
One of the strange cures advocated in The Golden Age included the Grape Cure which was purported to cure cancer. It was a fasting diet favored by Naturopaths and others consisting solely of grapes. Grapes for breakfast, grapes for lunch, and grapes for dinner for weeks. This was about all that was needed to cure your cancer. The philosophy and ideas behind it were strange, some said occultic. The grape cure worked, according to its founder, Johanna Brandt, because grapes were "magnetic" and pepped up your mind with the sun's healing "vibrations." The anti-oxidents in red grapes (and wine made of red grapes) is now known to help prevent certain cancers (as are anti-oxidents in other foods such as tomatoes). Needless to say, there are many cases on record of unfortunate individuals who tried this "cure" and died of cancer. How many of those included Jehovah's Witnesses who followed The Golden Age's endorsement of the "grape cure" is anybody's guess.  Perhaps some could have been helped by at least removing a tumor surgically if nothing else, but then surgery was looked down on in the Watchtower at the time, so many turned to grapes on the advice of The Golden Age.
The Golden Age also promoted iridology or iridiagnosis. This is a medical theory and practice of diagnosing illnesses in the body by the appearance of the iris. Many "drugless" schools adopted this such as Naturopathy and Chiropractic (some to this day). As may be expected, no good scientific evidence exists as to the general diagnostic value of the appearance of the iris, and most iridiagnosticians have disagreed amongst themselves what colors, specks and streaks mean what in a person's eye. Never-the-less, it is experiencing something of a comeback in New Age/Alternative medical circles. Given the unreliability of the procedure in diagnosis of medical conditions, getting an accurate assesment of your medical condition based on it seems to have been little more than a crap shoot at best. Never-the-less, JWs presumably were diagnosed using the method, given The Golden Age's endorsements by JW doctors. I have no doubt a JW doctor could "cure" for a fee all kinds of diseases diagnosed this way using the other methods described in this article (grapes, ERA...).
The Watchtower vigorously promoted "zone therapy" (now called Reflexology) into the 1960s. This is another strange belief and procedure for curing diseases and ailments, but was eventually mainly used to relieve pain similar to acupuncture. It states that extremities of the body such as fingers and toes control or at least represent and influence different "zones" or areas of the body. By manipulating a persons toes (by placing rubber bands on certain toes in certain places for example) one can alleviate pain, ailments and even diseases elsewhere in the body. Again, since this was a "natural" or "drugless" therapy to help the body help itself, many Naturopaths, Osteopaths, Chiropractors and thus JWs relied on this method for treatment. 
The Watchtower Society for decades was heavily involved in various forms of what has come to be called "medical radiesthesia." This is an occult philosophy that unknown and invisible rays, waves and "vibrations" can be used to diagnose and cure diseases. The most well known example of this is Radionics or the ERA.
As documented before in this Journal, the Society for decades promoted the electronic reactions of Abrams or the ERA after scientific investigations found little to be said in favor of it.  A "radionic" machine is used to diagnose and cure patients sometimes at a distance from a handwriting sample, picture, blood sample or other personal item of the patient. One JW doctor even invented an ERA gadget and sold it to JWs in The Golden Age. This medical procedure is now viewed by the Watchtower Society as "spiritism". 
The Golden Age promoted the medical use of Radium, a radioactive element which is still used occasionally to destroy cancer cells as a form of radiation therapy. The Society's promotion of Radium went well beyond its use in destroying cancerous cells. The Golden Age even advertised the Radio-Solar Pad for sale. The Society's second president, J.F. Rutherford wore this radium laced belt to help his pneumonia on the advice of his doctor, J.W. Coolidge in the early 1920s. The Golden Age printed an article on this by Coolidge, followed by an endorsement by the "Judge."  An ad for the device was included at the back of the issue. 
The Golden Age even pointed out that apparently "honest" demons, speaking through mediums or Ouija Boards, were saying that in discovering Radium, mankind was getting close to the "secret" of life. The fact that "lying spirits" as they called them said this didn't raise any red flags because, they said, "even liars will sometimes tell the truth." [26 ]
After several high profile deaths from Radium "poisonings" from its radioactivity were widely reported in the popular press, the Society ended their endorsement of such things as the Radio-Solar Pad, despite its backing by "honest" liars.
Strange medical statements
The Golden Age and other Society publications were so full of bizarre material on health that it's hard to believe. Here's a sampling of some of their statements which may give the reader an idea:
If the organs [of your body] are diseased, heal them by correcting your diet. Avoid the use of aluminum cooking utensils and alum baking powders as they are injurious to your health, poisoning your blood stream... Sleep on the right side or flat on your back, with the head toward the north so as to get benefit of the earth's magnetic currents. Avoid serum inoculations as they pollute the blood stream with their filthy pus.... Stop chewing gum, as you need the saliva for your food. 
But the dog-rabies-vaccine imposition is the latest.... Rabies! When it has been shown conclusively that there is no such thing as rabies! 
The earlier in the forenoon you take the sun bath, the greater will be the beneficial effect, because you get more of the ultra-violet rays, which are healing. 
It has never been proven that a single disease is due to germs. 
Quite likely there is some connection between the violation of human blood [vaccines] and the spread of demonism.... 
Milk is the greatest curative food known. 
The Electronic Radio Biola
I HAVE named this new discovery, which I believe will be epochal in the history of the treatment of disease, and which I am exclusively announcing in THE GOLDEN AGE prior to its general publication elsewhere, The Electronic Radio Biola, which means life renewed by radio waves or electrons. The Biola automatically diagnoses and treats diseases by the use of the electronic vibrations. The diagnosis is 100 percent correct, rendering better service in this respect than the most experienced diagnostician.... THE principle of operation of the Biola is the collection... of the disease vibrations.... the fluid containing the same waves or vibrations enters the body, meets the disease waves and destroys them.... This is a great step forward, marking the Biola as the most valuable treatment apparatus obtainable today, and well worthy of notice in the columns of a magazine like THE GOLDEN AGE... 
All human ailments have their start in the intestines. 
HOW many people know, I wonder, of the curative properties of olive oil. The word "cure" is a strong term.... I personally know of more than one being relieved of liver trouble, and even cured of gall stones, by the use of olive oil.... A friend who for years has suffered pain in the region of the appendix was entirely relieved by the oil treatments. 
Cigarettes and Mental Instability
....Enfeebled constitutions, inherited from fashionable mothers, cannot stand up under tobacco... 
"Aspirin-The Menace of Heart Disease" [article title] [37
Serum Led to Desire to Kill
At Los Angeles a youth of 20 years was caught in the act of choking a woman of 75. Arrested, and suspected of three murders, he claims the urge to kill came as a result of serum inoculations... 
Even years ago it was known by some people that the use of pacifiers by babies is one of the chief causes of diseased and enlarged tonsils and adenoid growths, which results from the suction. 
Lemons and Kerosene
A subscriber.... finds a drop or two of kerosene excellent for quickly cleaning sinks and bathtubs; it cuts the dirt immediately and leaves no odor; and when applied to cuts the cuts heal sooner. Try it. 
The Watchtower Society's "bloodguilt"
No one knows how much unnecessary illness and death resulted among the Jehovah's Witnesses from this endorsement of quackery and useless cures and remedies. Despite this though, the Watchtower Society still claims to be God's organization on earth, His sole "channel of communication" through whom alone the truth is dispensed to mankind. All other religions are false, soon to be destroyed by God at Armageddon. They claim that all these religions, especially the churches of "Christendom", are "bloodguilty" before God as their leaders promoted such things as wars which resulted in the untimely deaths of millions. They advise all who will listen to forsake all these religions because of this bloodguilt. As they have said:
According to the Bible, when we deliberately put someone's life unnecessarily in danger, we could become bloodguilty. (Compare 1 Chronicles 11:17-19.) Christian parents would not want to incur bloodguilt by risking their daughter's lives in this way [female circumcision]. 
Avoid bloodguilt from (1) eating blood [blood transfusions], (2) sharing in bloodguilty organizations... 
The Scriptures show that if we are part of any organization that is bloodguilty before God, we must sever our ties with it if we do not want to share in its sins. (Rev. 18;4, 24: Mic. 4:3) 
As in most other cases from their theology to prophetic date setting, the Watchtower Society's condemnatory words directed at others condemns themselves. May many JWs have the courage to forsake organizations that have put the lives of their followers at risk - such as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
References and notes
1. The Golden Age, Aug. 5, 1931, p. 727.
2. The Golden Age, September 26, 1934, p. 807. Material in brackets mine.
3. The Golden Age, Feb. 27, 1935, pp. 343, 344; The Golden Age, Sept. 23, 1936, p. 822; Consolation, Oct. 5, 1938, p. 7.
4. The Golden Age, March 17, 1920, p. 808.
5. The Golden Age, May 1, 1929, p. 502.
6. The Golden Age, Feb. 4, 1931, p. 294.
7. The Golden Age, Feb. 4, 1931, p. 293.
8. Consolation, May 31, 1939, p. 3.
9. See "Naturopathy and it's Professors," (Chapter IX) in Morris Fishbien, Fads and Quackery in Healing, (NewYork: Covici, Friede, Publishers), 1932, pp. 117-139 which lists some of the various quack promotions and ideas in Naturopathy up to 1932. See further, Dr. Robert A. Wood, "The Case for Naturopathy" and Joseph D. Wasserburg, M.D., "The Case Against Naturopathy,"American Merury, May, 1950, pp. 542-556; Martin Gardner, Fads and Fallicies In The Name of Science (New York: Dover Publications), 1957, pp. 195-198.
10. Gardner, pp. 199-201.
11. Gardner, p. 200.
12. Arthur D. Hildreth, "Osteopathic Treatment of Insanity," The Golden Age, Oct. 26, 1932, pp. 53-4; "Osteopathy Fights for Your Health," Awake!, May 8, 1949, pp. 13-15; "What is Osteopathy?", Awake!, Dec. 8, 1961, pp. 20-23.
13. Jack Raso, "Alternative" Healthcare A Comprehensive Guide, (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books), 1993, p. 148.
14. The Golden Age, April 27, 1921, p. 437.
15. Raso, pp. 147-8.
16. Watch Tower Reprints, p. 4963.
17. Reprints, p. 226.
18. Reprints, p. 5691.
19. Johanna Brandt, The Grape Cure, 1928.
20. Hugh Burroughs, "Iridology" in Alternative Healing (LaMesa, CA.: Halcyon Publishing); Raso, p. 197; Gardner, p. 193; Kurt Butler, "Iridology" in A Consumer's Guide to "Alternative Medicine"(Buffalo, NY.: Prometheus Books), 1992, pp. 196-198.
21. Butler, pp. 103-4; Gardner, pp. 193-5; Awake!, Sept. 22, 1951, pp. 27-28.
22. Ken Raines, "The ERA Ouija Board, part 1", JW Research, Winter, 1995, pp. 7-15; JW Research Journal, Spring, 1996, pp. 4-20.
23. Ken Raines, "Quack Cures and Radionic Ouija Boards", JW Research Journal, Spring, 1996, pp.21-25.
24. J.W. Coolidge, "Life and the Life-Giver", The Golden Age, June 23, 1920, pp. 606-7.
25. J.F. Rutherford, "Comments on the Foregoing", The Golden Age, June 23, 1920, p. 607.
26. C.J. Woodworth, "Radium-Earths Most Valuable Substance", The Golden Age, Feb. 2, 1921, p. 260.
27. The Golden Age, Nov. 12, 1929, p. 107.
28. The Golden Age, Jan. 1, 1923, p. 214.
29. The Golden Age, Sept. 13, 1933, p. 777.
30. The Golden Age, Jan. 16, 1924, p. 250.
31. The Golden Age, Feb. 4, 1931, p. 293.
32. The Golden Age, Dec. 8, 1920, p. 146.
33. The Golden Age, April 22, 1925, p. 454.(Ad for the Electronic Radio Biola is on page 479.)
34. The Golden Age, Nov. 28, 1928, p. 133.
35. The Golden Age, July 5, 1935, p. 632.
36. The Golden Age, Oct. 25, 1933, p. 57.
37. The Golden Age, Sept. 23, 1936, p. 822.
38. Consolation, Dec. 1, 1937, p. 12.
39. The Golden Age, Nov. 26, 1919, p. 153.
40. Consolation, Dec. 1, 1931, p. 12.
41. Awake!, June 22, 1985, p. 27.
42. The Watchtower, June 15, 1978, p. 25.
43. United in Worship of the Only True God, 1983, p. 155.