The Right to Give Blood?

I don’t remember precisely when I learned that I was ineligible to donate blood.  Somewhere along the line I was informed that, on account of the time I’d spent in Africa – it could have been after Kenya, Nigeria, or South Africa – I was excluded as a potential blood donor.

Actually, I hadn’t really given the whole matter much thought – meaning that, perhaps to my discredit, I had not really been chomping at the bit to give blood. But since Malaria and AIDS, inter alia, are so prevalent in those countries, it’s not difficult to grasp why I would not be an ideal donor.  I didn’t take it personally, but as objectively justified caution. On the flip side, I should add, I was relieved – for obvious reasons – that I myself didn’t need any sort of emergency transfusion while in those countries. 

These same types of restrictions also apply to those who have spent extensive (or even accumulated) periods of time in other regions – including Europe. “Better safe than sorry,” is the operative principle for many organizations and potential blood recipients usually agree.

But not everyone.  The mayor of Campbell, California (in the heart of Silicon Valley) recently gave vent to his consternation that he, like all other gay men, is not allowed to donate his blood. And guess what? His social-media appeal to have such a ban lifted has, to judge by the fawning support in our local news outlets, taken off like gangbusters.

If you are wondering what, in the wake of the “gay marriage” project, may be the next taboo to topple – incest?, polygamy? – “discriminatory” blood donation policy is already in play.

To give the mayor the benefit of the doubt, I suppose his argument would not be that anyone and everyone should be allowed to give blood, but that the ban should not apply if any particular individual can meet the requisite criteria.

This is not the place to specify in numbing detail the well-grounded reasons behind current blood policy; suffice to say, however, that no car insurance company would accept the same sort of argument from the young male-driver demographic. No matter how persuasively any one young male can demonstrate that he is not personally a reckless driver, it would not offset the overall trends upon which premiums are impersonally based.

Apparently the Red Cross had asked the mayor to help coordinate a blood drive. But doing so was, he said, “like hosting a party you’re not invited to.

Where to begin? First, the whole endeavor is should be about the needs of recipient, rather than boosting the ego of the donor, right? A blood drive is not the place to assert your view of “equality” – or worse, to exercise your “rights.” The narcissism evident in the mayor’s comment is the very antithesis of what blood drives are all about.

But really, why do we need to respect the peace of mind of the blood recipient if the peace of mind of, say, photographers can be trampled upon should they balk at being enlisted to recognize “gay marriage” – an ontological and anthropological impossibility?

Objective reality is the enemy in both cases – even, curiously, among those who supposedly extol objective science above all else. Only those in fact nursing other, baser priorities could claim that scientific blood safety judgments, directed towards the common good, are “discrimination.”

Man, alas, does not live by reason alone; honesty entails recognizing that it is usually not the science itself, but how it is interpreted, that is so hotly contested. The sparring revolves around prior commitments flowing from that which lies at the root of all culture: religion, in one form or another. That was already clear in ancient pagan thought.

Aristotle on abortion is an interesting case in point. He specified that abortion should not be permitted after a certain stage of pregnancy.  Some have suggested, therefore, that if only Aristotle had been equipped with the unequivocal findings of modern embryology, he would have certainly been opposed to all abortion.

But Matthew Lu, writing earlier this year in the International Philosophical Quarterly (“Aristotle on Abortion and Infanticide”), makes the case that we should not be so easily convinced.  Noting that the West is “deeply indebted to Aristotle,” he also contends that there must be more to this particular question, given that Aristotle seems to have accepted uncritically the prevailing Greek cultural practice of infanticide via exposure. (Not only did he did not condemn infanticide categorically, he maintained that “deformed” babies should not be afforded protection and felt the state had a role to play in regulating the population).

It was his acceptance of this prevailing cultural norm rather than ignorance of embryology that shaped his view on the matter; the science, in other words, would not have made the difference.  Only seeing the human person in a particular way can.

Lu concludes: “as much as our moral thought is indebted to him, the contemporary world has also been shaped by a revolution in the understanding of the human person that has transformed the very foundations of our moral worldview.” By revolution he means “the rise of Christianity whose transformative effects on Western morality can be recognized wholly independently from the question of the truth of its religious claims.”

The growing repudiation of what has been the civilizing difference has led some to maintain that modern day neo-paganism is more virulent than the ancient variety. That, I suppose, is an open question. But human blood, to judge from how much has been spilled on the neo-pagan’s watch, has never really been something they hold in high regard.

Matthew Hanley’s new book, Determining Death by Neurological Criteria: Current Practice and Ethics, is a joint publication of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and Catholic University of America Press.