Give Blood

I forgot to advertise the campus blood drive that just ended, and I apologize for that. Your blood really can save lives and blood drives make it that much easier to do the right thing. They had plasmapheresis machines set up, which meant I got to give two units of cells rather than my usual one unit of whole blood.

What I love about giving blood is that it’s a way for me to do something good at no real cost to myself. I feel better afterward, and I know I’ve helped one person, possibly several people.

Crooked Timber’s Harry (or someone whose name starts with H) wishes he could give blood, but wonders about the ethics of lying to the Red Cross. To screen out mad cow disease, they forbid people who lived in England for a long time from donating, but as a vegetarian, Henry is almost surely not exposed. I think he can ethically lie, for the same reason I think that men who have had sex with men can ethically lie about that if they used a condom and have observed basic precautions about their partners. It’s true that men who’ve had sex with men tend to be at greater risk of HIV infection, but screening out a substantial chunk of the population off the bat seems unwise.

This is one of those situations where the ethical thing to do is to answer the question they mean to be asking, not the one they are actually asking. Henry knows that the Red Cross is really asking whether he’s exposed himself to a high risk of mad cow disease (which I don’t believe blood tests could reveal). Henry knows his risk is low, and that “if the person who devised the policy had the power to make exceptions and heard (and believed) my story, they?d make an exception in my case.” So I think he’s justified in fibbing, thereby giving a more meaningful answer.

Similarly, someone who knows enough to understand why they would be more worried about men who’ve had sex with men would also be smart enough to evaluate whether they’ve engaged in high-risk activities. A gay man who’s always used condoms and always been in a sexually exclusive relationship is at much less risk than a heterosexual woman who has had unprotected sex with multiple partners. I think that the gay man in that example is justified in fibbing, since the real point of the series of questions about sexual history is really a long-winded way of asking “have you engaged in high-risk behaviors?” and he hasn’t.

While we’re on this subject, I’ll remind everyone to seriously consider becoming an organ donor. Your organs could be used to save and improve many lives. It isn’t enough to check off the box on your driver’s license, your next of kin will have to sign paperwork granting permission. That means you need to have a serious conversation with your loved ones to make sure they know what you want.

While you’re discussing that, it’s also a good time to work out a living will and advanced medical directives. We’ve seen what sort of confusion arises when people without those documents winds up in a on life support. To keep your loved ones from having to make agonizing choices without your guidance, make it clear what measures you’d want used to keep you functioning, and put it in writing, and make sure your family knows where it’s written.


  1. #1 Henry
    March 18, 2007

    It’s Harry who posted this, not me (we frequently get confused, but are actually different people).

  2. #2 Josh
    March 18, 2007

    My apologies. Fixed.

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