Sunday, June 06, 2010


A reader from Reynoldsburg, Ohio, works on the line in a factory to which, once a quarter, the local chapter of the American Red Cross sends its bloodmobile to collect donations from the workers. During these blood drives, employees are allowed to leave their positions on the line, with their manager's approval, to donate blood.

"The process can take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes," my reader tells me. "It's a nice break from work."

My reader is among the many who choose to give blood regularly. According to estimates by the World Health Organization, more than 92 million blood donations are made annually. Roughly 16 million units are collected in the United States each year. To recognize those who donate blood, World Blood Donor Day is held each year in a different country. This year it will fall on June 14 and be hosted by Spain in Barcelona.

The Red Cross asks all prospective donors to answer dozens of questions to determine their eligibility to give blood. Among those excluded are people who spent more than three months in the United Kingdom between 1980 and 1996, those who have been tattooed within the past 12 months at an unlicensed facility, woman who are pregnant, people who have ever used intravenous drugs that were not prescribed by a physician and "any male who has had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977."

That last provision has been called into question. Researchers have argued, in a recent article in The Canadian Medical Association Journal, that the ban against donations by men who have had sex with other men "no longer makes sense," given the improvements in HIV tests for donated blood. Nonetheless the ban still stands, which presents a challenge for my reader.

"A co-worker confided in me that he is a homosexual," he writes. "He went so far as to tell me that, although he is in a relationship, he continues to `sleep around.'"

Despite the Red Cross guidelines, this co-worker continues to donate blood each time the bloodmobile comes to the plant.

"He told me, when they ask him the qualifying question concerning his sexual activity, he lies so that he can continue the process," my reader reports.

My reader has made repeated attempts to get his co-worker to halt this practice, he says, but his colleague "sees nothing wrong with what he is doing and refuses to discontinue his donations."

My reader is confident that the Red Cross tests the donated blood, and thus that his co-worker's blood is not tainted. Even so, his co-worker is still deceiving the Red Cross and his manager, so he wonders, "Should I discreetly alert someone of this deceit?"

It's no wonder that my reader is torn. Under normal circumstances, "outing" someone as a homosexual is inexcusable. This fact is, quite simply, nobody's business but his or her own.

These are not normal circumstances, however.

There is some merit in the medical researchers' argument that the ban on donations by homosexual men has outlived its usefulness. In March a letter from 18 United States senators asked the Food and Drug Administration, which establishes blood-donation guidelines in the U.S., to reconsider the policy, and the FDA has announced that it will hold an advisory-committee meeting to revisit this ban in June.

For now, however, the ban stands. Neither my reader nor his co-worker is a doctor, and it is not their place to determine whether the rules need to be changed. It's their job to abide by them or, if they cannot or if they think the rules ill-advised, to not give blood.

My reader's co-worker is wrong to lie in order to give blood, and my reader is right to have made every effort to convince him to be honest with the blood collectors. Because those pleas have fallen on deaf ears, he must take the next step.

The right thing for my reader to do is to let his co-worker know that he plans to tell the Red Cross representatives that his co-worker does not qualify as a blood donor under the current rules. He doesn't need to explain exactly why, merely to tell them that his co-worker has misrepresented himself in filling out the form for past donations.

Hopefully the prospect of having his lie exposed will be enough to cause his co-worker to stop giving blood, until such time as the ban may be revoked. If he does not, however, my reader should carry out his plan and talk to the Red Cross.

It's a pity that this will almost certainly cause friction between the two men. I see no reason to doubt that the co-worker's desire to give blood is motivated strictly by generosity, and it's unfortunate that he finds himself in a position in which he can't do good without lying.

The safety of the blood supply must be paramount, however, and it's my reader's responsibility to see that his co-worker is held accountable for his actions.

c.2010 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)


Anonymous said...

There is no room in considering donations to a blood drive to equivocate as to the circumstances of the person's sexual history. Even with careful testing, there is no guarantee that Red Cross testing will pick up blood tainted with the HIV virus. The gay individual is blatantly disregarding rules put in place to assure a safe blood supply. However, since this is an ethics column, I do not see how anyone could justify Jeffrey's reader failing to report the gay person's activities. I'm torn between Jeffrey's advice to his reader to report his co-worker's lies and the very real problem of the co-worker continuing to donate tainted blood. Considering all options, I believe Jeffrey's reader should put strong pressure on his co-worker to cease donating blood, with a strong admonition that should the gay man once more go for a donation, he should tell his co-worker that he will notify the Red Cross that this man has a reason he should not be donating blood.

Charlie Seng

Marty said...

Mr. Seglin is exactly correct in his opinion...and it's a shame that the reader waited so long to write. It is an abomination for the worker to be giving blood in contravention to the rules. What a moron.