Monday, February 06, 2006

Given, no. Spilt, yes

This morning's Today programme had an interview with a student leader from Birmingham University, whose organisation is protesting the National Blood Service's policy on gay donors. (You can hear it here for the next few days; the link goes to a .ram file.) Under the current rules, no man who has ever had sex with another man is permitted to give blood. I agree that this rule should be reviewed, not because it violates anyone's 'right' to give blood -- there is no such right -- but because it keeps out a lot of potential donors who don't really pose a serious HIV risk.

The student interviewed on the Today programme, however, didn't use that argument, or any other logical argument. Instead, he told an anecdote that had my bullshit detector clanging:

The way I came to find out about this was because a friend of mine went to give blood with their dad, and they weren't out at the time, and, uh, out to their parents, and they realised that they couldn't give blood, and they didn't realise how they could tell, you know, hadn't told their parents beforehand, this really wasn't the time, in the queue to give blood, and so they had to, when they saw the needle, pretend to faint, which meant they ended up hitting their head on a bed and, and actually knocking themselves out. Which is, you know, a real risk for them.

I give blood myself, and I find this story highly unlikely. The Blood Service's procedure is to interview you privately at every appointment. In a curtained booth, a nurse goes through each item on the health questionnaire and asks you to confirm your answer. They do this precisely because they realise you might have had someone looking over your shoulder when you filled it out. All the student had to do was to tell the nurse he was gay. The information would never have gone beyond the interview booth -- and since the nurse tests your iron levels at the same time as the interview, the student could have told his father he couldn't donate because his iron was too low. In short, if the donation session was run properly, there was no way the homophobic tyranny of Billy Blood Drop could have forced this guy to fall down and get an owie.

So what does the anecdote prove? Well, it could prove that someone is lying or mistaken. It could prove that a particular blood donation session was run without due regard for privacy. It could prove that the student was naive and panicked, or that he had a martyr complex and set out to make things difficult for himself. The one thing it doesn't prove is that gay men should be allowed to give blood. And considering that there are valid arguments to support the idea that they should, I'm baffled that the students chose to rely on this feeble appeal to pity.


At 12:02 pm, Blogger Jessy said...

Oh my goodness, that was pretty funny. I like how people obliterate their perfect opportunities to make a great, common-sense-filled argument by bleeding idiocy!


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