Did You Know You Can’t Donate Blood if You Aren’t Married?
If you’re single and sexually active, you’ll have a helluva time trying to donate blood for a loved one.
(This story was published on The Quint on September 10, 2015. In it, The Quint’s journalist Urmi Bhattacheryya recounts her harrowing experience of blood donation at the Fortis hospital in Noida. The story was written to bring to light the many shortcomings that still exist in the blood donation process in India – sexism being one of them. It is being reposted in honour of International Blood Donor Day on October 1.)
If you’re a single woman who’s desirous of donating blood and have had sex with more than one partner, chances are you’ll be shown the door quite unceremoniously. Meanwhile, a married woman? Also desirous of donating blood? Gets to go in immediately and shed that blood to save a life.
The rules that regulate blood donation in India are horribly skewed across sexist lines, and if I hadn’t ventured out to donate blood one fine afternoon, I would perhaps never have learnt this.
Last Thursday, my colleague and I rushed to Fortis Hospital at Noida, Sector 62, to donate blood to a person who needed it. We filled out identical forms with near-identical information – except that there was one dissimilarity: she checked ‘married’ while I did not. The two-page form is fairly basic: it asks you to check boxes with questions under medical history, and another section purely related to sexual factors – such as, whether you’ve had sex before, whether you’ve practised safe sex, et al.
Unmarried and Sexual
When our respective turns came to walk in through the various rounds of checks, my colleague took less than a minute to be shown in through the doors where she might donate. When it was my turn, I submitted to the usual weight and haemoglobin checks (12.9 – that’s excellent, I crowed within), before finally being shown into a chamber where a female doctor sat ready to ask me more questions.
Having satisfied herself on all other fronts, she now asked me about my sexual history.
“I know this is an embarrassing question – and I hope you won’t take it the wrong way,” she hedged, “but are you married?”
“No,” I told her simply.
“I see here that you’ve marked ‘yes’ to having had sex before.”
“That’s correct, but I’ve always practised safe sex.”
“So how many sexual partners have you had?”
“I’ve had three,” I told her. “Prior relationships. But I’m not with anyone right now.”
“Aaaah,” she sat back and pursed her lips. “Well, I’m glad you’ve been so honest and upfront about this, but I’m afraid I have to defer you because you’re a high risk factor.”
Why, I asked her. I’d just told her I’d had safe sex at all times, had I not. What if I had lied? Told her I’d never been sexually active? Would the hospital have investigated and if not, would not such a ‘liar’ have been able to donate in any case? She smiled awkwardly and explained that she supposed such a person would be able to donate but since the blood would be treated and checked anyway before giving it to the patient, it would have been fine, really.
“Well then, wouldn’t you be checking my blood, anyway? After I’ve donated?”
Yes, but I’d already told her my ‘background’, and on that basis, had doomed my case, she let me know.
I waited for my colleague to finish donating and then asked her what she’d been asked.
Here’s how her conversation had gone.
“I hope you don’t mind me asking (I suppose that’s the uncomfortable preamble) but I see you’ve marked ‘yes’ to sex. You’re not married, I’m guessing?”
“No, but I am.”
“Oh you are!” she laughed “But you don’t look married!”
“What is ‘looking married’?”
“You don’t wear sindoor…”
“Well, that’s hardly a criteria! But yes, I am married.”
“Well, go right in – there’s where you donate.”
The Bizarre Hypocrisy Across ‘Blood’ Lines
When I marched back in, colleague in tow and demanded to know why she hadn’t been asked the same questions, the HoD made some attempts at conciliation.
See now, since you look educated and well-to-do, we’d obviously believe you if you said you’d had safe sex... but what if someone poor and uneducated had walked in through those doors and made the same claim? We couldn’t possibly let them go unverified, right? So, how can we have different parameters of judging?
The hypocrisy of the statement stung.
Why do Different Hospitals Have Different Rules?
A government hospital like Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, for example, has a startlingly different form. Running into four pages, the form asks no questions about your sexual history, but instead focuses on physical health ones.
They (Fortis) should ask everyone the same questions – if at all they must. After all, one cannot rely only on a questionnaire a donor fills. All blood banks must check for STDs before the blood can be transfused to the patient anyway. A patient is never given untreated blood.
– Dr Niruta Sharma, Chief Medical Officer, Cardiology, RML
Why Must Sexuality be a Matter of ‘Confidence’?
But the bigger question is: how does one discriminate on ‘social’ grounds such as marriage and ‘how you look’ economically? I was also told by the same doctor that I needn’t worry about what I had told her, that such “information” as I had divulged would be “kept confidential”, and that she understood that this was “embarrassing”.
Despite my screaming in vehemence that I didn’t think sex was anything to be ashamed about, the moral harbinger at Fortis still assumed that it was.
When we reached out to Fortis for a comment, representatives did respond with the prescribed regulations under the Drugs and Cosmetics Rule 1945:
The donor shall be in good health, mentally alert and physically fit and shall not be inmate of jail, persons having multiple sex partners and drug addicts.
The fact is, we do understand this and the existing stipulation, but the question is – why the discrimination on social and moral grounds?
Who draws the line between insulting and medically appropriate?
The entire process has rendered me quite numb and I am still struggling to understand the many levels of outrage that I went through that afternoon. Surely, my only option cannot be to lie at the next blood bank?
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