Q1) Are you married?
Q2) Do you have multiple partners or are you in a committed relationship?
Q3) Have you had an abortion?
Are these questions you would like to hear from a strange male doctor, alone in his office cabin, when you go to donate blood for a friend’s ailing father in a hospital? Certainly not! Interestingly, I filled in a lengthy form prior to the face-to-face conversation with the doctor. In that form, I was asked multiple questions related to medical conditions, but nothing about my sex life. Why were such sensitive questions not part of the form? What is the need to sit face-to-face with a male doctor and be expected to honestly answer such questions?
According to the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation’s (India) website, the donor shall be in good health, mentally alert, physically fit, and shall not be inmates of a jail, persons having multiple sex partners, or drug-addicts. In addition to other criteria, for Transfusion-Transmissible Infections (TTIs) it clearly says:
The donor shall be free from any disease transmissible by blood transfusion.
It also says that a woman who has had abortion in the last six months will be temporarily barred from donating blood.
Indeed, it is important to check whether the donor is suffering from TTIs, etc. But where is the need to ask a prospective donor whether she has multiple partners or is in a committed relationship? And if it is necessary, why can’t these sensitive questions be filled as part of the form, rather than putting the patient in an embarrassing position?
Moreover, why was a female doctor was not assigned to conduct a face-to-face interview, when the doctors are aware that such intrusive questions will be asked of single women?
But it wasn’t just me. Even a male friend who accompanied me to donate blood felt affronted when asked similar questions by the doctor.
Q) Are you married?
Q) When did you marry?
A) 12 years ago
Q3) Did you have sex with anyone apart from your wife?
Well, he didn’t tell me the answer to this question. I hope he was honest with the doctor.
Whether the patient is male or female, surely anybody would prefer to answer such questions with a tick on a form, rather than being put on the spot face-to-face.
Different SOPs Followed by Government and Private Hospitals
A few months ago, I went to a government hospital to donate blood. The blood bank made me fill a form with generic questions related to my health and medical history. But no questions were asked about Transfusion-transmissible infections (TTI) or abortion, or my relationship history. The paramedic first took a blood sample, which he then sent for testing. I assume he tested whether my blood carried TTIs or not. When he was satisfied with my report, I was allowed to donate blood. I didn’t undergo any face-to-face interview with a doctor.
Considering that we live in a relatively closed society, government hospitals would probably not risk asking less educated men and women such intimate questions.
So why can’t private hospitals follow the same procedure or at the very least assign a female doctor if a face-to-face consultation is necessary? Is this being done to cut the costs of running tests, with the face-to-face interview functioning as a stand-in for the pre-donation blood test?
The World Health Organisation does point out the need for a confidential interview between donor and doctor, but only to help the former in understanding a few medical terms, if required. It says:
The completed donor questionnaire should be reviewed prior to donation in a one-to-one confidential interview between the donor and a donor selected staff member [...] to check whether the donor has understood the questions and has answered them correctly. Many people do not understand medical terms and may be so eager to give blood that they do not recognise the significance of their answers for their own health.
Clearly, some of the private hospitals in India believe that people would be honest in intimate details of their sex lives with a stranger. I happened to be honest in answering all questions, but the same may not be true for everyone.
Moreover, it is important for hospitals to make the process of donating blood as smooth and stress-free as possible in order to encourage more people to donate.
Putting potential donors in deeply uncomfortable positions without good reason is nothing but counterproductive.