Columnists > Voices

The Red Cross standard

Should society give moral approval to a lifestyle choice that disqualifies a person from giving blood?

Issue: "Lord of the Rings," Dec. 20, 2003

IT'S A GOOD THING OUR NEIGHBORHOOD WAL-Mart is just 150 yards from my office. In my very informal Belz Blue-Collar Poll on Homosexual Marriage (see last week's issue), I forgot one very important follow-up question, and had to hurry back this morning to get a few more opinions. (This very unscientific approach is why you should attach no statistical significance to my findings.)

To put this account in context, you need to know that a couple of days ago, I had also stopped by for a visit to the local unit of Red Cross, where I go as often as I can to give a pint of blood. It was, in fact, what I confirmed at the Red Cross that sent me back this morning to visit with a few Wal-Mart customers.

It's a good bit more demanding to be a blood donor these days than it used to be. Walk into the lobby, and you're handed "the book," a bulky three-ring binder you're asked to read through to see if you qualify. "The book" gives you half a dozen opportunities to disqualify yourself before anyone sees the first drop of your blood. The technique is to scare you up front rather than to embarrass you later.

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Next stop, if reading "the book" didn't scare you off, is "the clipboard" in the next room. Here, you're asked to check off more than 50 separate fine print questions about your own health background and personal practices. Now you shiver and quiver a bit, knowing that answering just one of these yes/no questions the wrong way might send you packing. Indeed, the nurse in charge suggested that all of us potential donors keep enough physical distance from each other so that if someone did have to 'fess up and leave, he wouldn't be embarrassed to do so.

But here's the point that leaped off "the clipboard" with startling clarity: Under the heading, "Who can not be a blood donor," was disqualification No. 7: "If you are a male, [and have] had sex even once with another male since 1977." In other words, no honest practicing male homosexual can be part of the blood-donor system in our culture.

So careful is the Red Cross on this issue that through the rest of the process, they ask you repeatedly whether maybe you misspoke or forgot. They even offer you a little sticker to put on your form at the last minute that lets you discreetly admit after you leave, "I lied. Maybe you should throw away my blood after all." And finally, they give you a phone number to call when you get home just in case a bit of honest remorse overtakes you.

In any case, I was jolted again by a fact that has gone unnoted in our media. Here is a whole category of people in our culture today unable to perform a basic function of human society-to share their blood with their fellow humans.

Granted, "the clipboard" also makes it clear that others may not give blood. A friend of mine who was treated for cancer a couple of years ago was deferred the same morning I was allowed. If I'd had malaria or hepatitis in the last few years, or if I'd traveled in certain tropical countries, or if I'd been on certain medications over the previous week, I could not have been a donor this past Saturday. But not a single one of those conditions involves a conscious lifestyle choice like that exercised by homosexuals.

Two other groups are excluded by the Red Cross as donors, both identified on the basis of their lifestyle choices. Neither prostitutes nor drug users, if they tell the truth about their habits, can give their blood. But neither prostitutes nor drug users-at least so far-have lined up to ask the courts of America to give them special privileges to marry and enjoy the rights and benefits society has traditionally given to married people.

It was that distinction that drove me back to augment my Wal-Mart survey. Would it make a difference to folks who might be otherwise tolerant of homosexual marriage if they knew that even a politically correct organization like Red Cross is allowed regularly to discriminate against homosexuals on this issue?

"Wow!" answered the first man I engaged in conversation. "Boy, howdy. I'd never thought about that before."

"You are hateful! That's ugly. Why don't you just go away?" said the second.

I talked to about a dozen people. Only two thought my concern was inappropriate. The rest seemed to agree it was an issue that at least deserved some further consideration.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.


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