Maybe Just Sweat and Tears: For Those Who Can’t Give Blood

Frani O’Toole As a mudblood, I know first-hand how the insinuations of the Red Cross come blood drive season can be downright Death Eater. To translate that simply: blood drive advertisements tend to make those of us unable to donate –restricted mostly because of circumstances beyond our control– feel deficient and excluded. Though really only intended for a select few, blood drive promotions are often indiscriminate in who and how they guilt-trip. One problem is that, as with LifeSource’s presentation at gathering, these promotions are often delivered to broad audiences. Since each individual’s circumstance is different, the issue belongs on a person-to-person basis. That said, if the presentations are going to be introduced to us as a community, it’s important that we discuss and respond to it as a community. What’s ironic is that blood is the very symbol of our shared humanity. Can’t we at least point to the stuff in our veins as our one inextricable commonality? How then, has blood become so tainted with controversy, so mixed in with larger debates over matters like sexual preference? During the 1980s, a time when the gay community was linked with the newly-arisen HIV epidemic, restrictions were put in effect to stop gay men from donating blood. But as Junior Jake Schlossberg says, “HIV is no longer a gay disease […] data shows that you are more likely to have HIV as a black woman than a gay man. But they can’t deter black women from donating, that’s blatant racism. The fact that they’re keeping gay people from giving blood, people who were born the way they are, just as black women are, is an obvious sign of the prejudice left in American society.” In fact, many countries have lifted their ban on donations from gay men; since that’s the case, why do organizations like LifeSource — the group responsible for Latin’s blood donation drive this Tuesday– state that those who “have engaged in high risk behavior or have had intimate contact with anyone at risk” for HIV/AIDS are permanently ineligible to donate? To augment the hurt, Jake continues, is that “the school sort of advertises the blood drive as a time for everyone to save a life. Well I can’t donate, so what am I worth? Nothing if I can’t help.” Winston Churchill once said “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat” — how would Winston Churchill, acknowledging that he had “nothing” else to offer, feel if his blood were rejected? (Note: Churchill’s frequent travels to malaria countries means he probably would have been ineligible to donate). Many of us are like Winston Churchill, valiantly offering our own blood to others, only to be unceremoniously rejected. The reasons vary: maybe we’ve gotten a piercing in the past twelve months, or have to take a lot of medication. Maybe we went on an international project week last year to a country with malaria, or have a sports practice or other commitment that takes precedence. Regardless of the “why,” being ineligible to donate is a sensitive issue for many people. Junior Kaya Romeo, unable to donate blood because of a genetic blood condition, says she doesn’t appreciate that during the blood presentation at gathering she was “guilted for something that I can’t change […] I am made to feel bad that I can’t help this poor eleven year old who has to have surgery. I’m told that everyone has the chance to save a life; except me.” As those of us who read Macbeth in English 9 may recall, Shakespeare used the motif of blood to symbolize guilt. Ironically, after 400 years of progress, our stigma attached to blood has changed little; at least in the blood-donation sense, guilt is inherent in the issue. I am by no means discouraging anyone that’s eligible from donating blood, nor  am I calling for a full overhaul of blood donation policies. In fact, I respect areas in which schools like Latin have bended their rules to maximize donations — one case being the approval for 16 year-olds to donate with parental permission. All I’m saying is that there are more “needles” to this issue than we often consider. But if we take a second to look at the recipients of blood donations, their stories of struggle and resilience can teach us something. What they tell us is –whether we must fight for the right to donate blood, or continue to search for alternative ways to help those in need– there’s never an excuse to give up.]]>