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Mentally Disabled Woman Turned Away at Blood Bank

Local Matters


Published May 9, 2006 at 6:09 p.m.

BURLINGTON -- At a time when the American Red Cross has been trying to raise public awareness of its "critical need," some people are questioning whether the organization is actually turning down perfectly good blood. In April, Seven Days reported on the Red Cross' policy of not accepting donations from gay or bisexual men who have had sex with other men since 1977. Now a University of Vermont senior says she believes the nonprofit turned down a donor because she's developmentally disabled.

Malaika DosRemedios was interning at the Howard Center for Human Services in Burlington when she accompanied her client to the Burlington Blood Center. The woman, whom she declined to identify to protect her privacy, had given blood before, and was motivated to do so again after seeing the "blood drop" costume, which the Red Cross uses to solicit donors.

But when DosRemedios and her client showed up at the blood bank, the woman was turned away. Why? DosRemedios can't say for sure, but she speculates it was because of the woman's disability.

According to DosRemedios, the client has a speech impediment, cannot read, and has an IQ below 70. DosRemedios says the woman couldn't understand all the questions she was asked about her medical history. DosRemedios says she offered to help her client but was not allowed to do so.

The workers were pleasant enough, DosRemedios notes -- they offered her a free T-shirt and some cookies for stopping by. But the intern questioned whether her client's experience was another form of discrimination.

Red Cross spokesperson Donna Morrissey says she can't comment on this specific case, but that the Red Cross generally doesn't have a policy preventing people with mental disabilities from donating.

"In the case of people with mental disabilities, we do require that the individual have a clear understanding of the health history questions in order to determine eligibility," Morrissey says. "But we require that of all people who come in [to donate]."

Donors must also pass a physical exam and answer all the medical history questions on their own. Donors cannot be coached by a legal guardian, social worker or other caregiver, even if that person is familiar with the potential donor's medical and personal history.

Morrissey says she's glad the issue was brought to her attention because it highlights some of the challenges that can arise in obtaining donors. A Howard Center representative plans to meet with an official at the blood center this week to discuss the matter.