Why Many Are Refusing Blood
IN WHAT was called a landmark decision, an Ontario court held the Canadian Red Cross liable for the HIV infection of two blood transfusion recipients—both of whom received tainted blood from the same donor. “When something as catastrophic as contaminated blood threatened the lives of recipients,” said Justice Stephen Borins, “an urgent response is required.”
During the 1980’s, some 1,200 Canadians were infected with HIV, and an additional 12,000 contracted hepatitis C—all from tainted blood and blood products. To help reduce the number of infections, donors are being screened much more carefully. But not all donors are honest about their sexual history. A survey in the United States, for example, revealed that 1 in 50 donors failed to report risk factors, such as homosexual activity or sex with a prostitute.
Adding to the dilemma is the fact that blood screening is not foolproof. According to New Scientist magazine, “if a person gives blood less than three weeks after becoming infected with HIV, current tests fail to detect the viruses. For hepatitis C, this ‘window period’ can last over two months.”
In recent years, there has been a significant decrease in the number of Canadians willing to give—or receive—blood. Columnist Paul Schratz writes: “With the drop in interest in donating, and the rise in numbers who can’t donate, thank God the Jehovah’s Witnesses are pioneering research in blood substitutes.”
Interestingly, The Toronto Star reports that during one recent year, some 40 people “checked into Canadian hospitals falsely claiming to be Jehovah’s Witnesses because they did not want blood transfusions.” Surveys indicate that about 90 percent of Canadians would prefer some alternative to donor blood. The use of blood, therefore, is no longer simply a religious issue.