Save a Life Today!

Image: “Save Life, Give Blood” motto between two connected hearts, one giving blood to the other. (Art by Novena Barberic via Shutterstock.)

In all the turmoil of politics and the news, it is easy to lose track of the important mitzvot available to us. Reader P.D.Fender reminded me of one today, something I’ve been intending to mention.

As advanced as medical science is, there is no substitute for human blood and its components. Every day in hospitals everywhere there is someone hanging on to life who will lose that battle unless some good soul has donated blood.

The American Red Cross has made it easy for donors. All a person has to do is go to the Red Cross donor website, enter their zip code, and all available locations for donating on a given day will appear. You can sign up electronically, so that you have an appointment and donation will not involve a long wait.

Each donation of whole blood has the potential to save three lives that would otherwise be lost to bleeding or to disease. Red blood cells also save those depleted by anemia. Platelets are used for treatment for dengue, leukemia and cancer patients, and plasma can replace clotting factors which may be depleted in bleeding or infection.

There are many reasons there is almost always a shortage of blood supplies. First, many people can’t be donors because their blood might hurt, not help the sick. You can check for your own eligibility at this site. Secondly, even those who are eligible to give can only give at specific intervals, so their bodies can recover. According to the Red Cross:

You must wait at least eight weeks (56 days) between donations of whole blood and 16 weeks (112 days) between Power Red donations. Platelet apheresis donors may give every 7 days up to 24 times per year. Regulations are different for those giving blood for themselves (autologous donors).

I used to be a regular whole blood donor. My veins are not easy, so it was a bit of a nuisance. On the other hand, every time I donated I knew that I was performing an important mitzvah, so it was well worth the trouble. Illness ended my ability to donate, because the drugs I must take would hurt, not help a patient. This mitzvah is no longer available to me.

I encourage all of my readers who are eligible to donate blood or blood components. I won’t lie to you and say, “It’s easy!” but it is not as difficult as you may fear if you have never given. There is no feeling in the world like knowing that you are saving a lives.

There is no substitute for human blood. This is something we can do for one another, no matter what nonsense is going on in Washington, no matter what horrors are in the news. It truly is the gift of life.

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It’s a Mitzvah: Save a Life!

Blood donation drive
Blood donation drive (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Lo ta’amod al dam re’echa.”  — “Do not stand by while your neighbor bleeds.”  Leviticus 19:16

If someone is in dire danger, this commandment in the Torah insists that we must act. The ancient rabbis took this commandment so seriously that they teach us that even if it means breaking the Sabbath, even if it means breaking almost any other law, we must not stand by while someone is in danger of death.  (The exceptions? We may not engage in murder, incest, or idolatry, even to save a life.)

 Right now, in the United States, we are in the midst of a critical blood shortage. Last week, the American Red Cross reported that the nation’s blood banks were down by 50,000 pints.  That is not a typo: FIFTY THOUSAND PINTS of blood — blood upon which people’s lives depend! — are simply not there.  Each of those pints could make the difference between life and death for someone injured in the storms in the East, for a firefighter injured in Colorado, or for a mother with a complicated childbirth. Cancer patients sometimes need many pints of blood and blood products to continue fighting the disease.

Today I stopped by my local Red Cross Blood Donation center, and when the nurse looked at my record, she said, “Oh! Your blood type is negative! We really need those!” I asked her about the shortage and she shook her head: “Yes, it’s really, really bad.  Now let’s get your blood pressure.”

Now I have a bandaid in the crook of my left elbow, and a sticker on my shirt. I don’t know where my pint of A negative will go, but I’m told it may save as many as three lives.

Some people can’t donate: my partner, a cancer survivor, is barred from ever performing this mitzvah ever again. A person with a fresh tattoo or piercing may not donate until 12 months have passed. A person who may have been exposed to any of several diseases may not donate. People who have taken certain drugs cannot. If you wonder if you are eligible, or you have other questions, you can find the answers on the Red Cross Blood Donation website.  That site can also direct you to the nearest place to donate, and in many areas, you can make your appointment online.

Rabbi Simon Glustrom writes in an article on pikuach nefesh, preservation of life:

The preservation of human life takes precedence over all the other commandments in Judaism. The Talmud emphasizes this principle by citing the verse from Leviticus [18:5]: “You shall therefore keep my statutes…which if a man do, he shall live by them.” The rabbis add: “That he shall live by them, and not that he shall die by them.” (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 85b)

In Deuteronomy 30, Moses speaks to Israel with a message from the Divine, and near the end he says:

I call heaven and earth to witness you this day, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that you may live, you and your descendants.

For those of us able to donate blood, we have a the opportunity to choose life in a very literal way. The choice before us is indeed a choice between life and death, blessing and curse.

Choose life and blessing, that you and others may live.

Afterwards, cookies.