Beit Midrash

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Forcing Someone With a Rare Blood Type to Donate


Various Rabbis

May health authorities force one who has a rare blood type to donate blood? The question can be asked when there is a specific person in need of the blood or when there is a general shortage of that type in the blood banks, in such a way that there is a statistically high chance that such blood will be needed and unavailable.
The Tur (Choshen Mishpat 426) rules that one who sees someone is endangered by drowning or by the approach of a bandit is required to save him whether it requires use of his body or his property, just that the person in danger is required to reimburse him if possible. The question, though, is: is the requirement only a moral obligation or can he actually be forced to save?
The gemara (Ketubot 86a) says that while there is a set number of lashes given to those who violated certain negative commandments, one who refuses to fulfill a positive commandment can be hit until he complies. According to Rashi (ad loc.) the distinction is not between positive and negative commandments but depends on whether there is still an opportunity to fulfill the obligation, in which case force is not limited. Thus, if one is planning to violate the matter of standing idly by while a friend is in danger, he can be coerced as necessary to save. Our case is clearer than the case of a positive commandment, as one may and must do almost anything to save a life. It appears from the Tur’s description of bandits that the danger does not have to be very specific.
Do we have to take into account the potential danger to the blood donor? At first glance, we see that tens of thousands of people donate blood, and we do not hear of people who are endangered by it. It is true that some people say they are afraid of the consequences, but these appear to be unlearned complaints, for the most part provided by those who are lazy or have a fear of the pain or the process. (If someone has a rare sensitivity to donating blood, so that there is even a small danger, he is not required to donate. Although the Yerushalmi (see Beit Yosef 426) says that one is required to place himself in possible danger to save someone from definite danger, that opinion is not accepted- see Radvaz III, 627).
The Tzitz Eliezer (XVI, 23) says that one is not required to donate blood for the following reasons: one is required to provide effort and money in order to save, but we do not find that he has to give his life blood; people do faint or undergo extreme fright from the prospect of giving, and there are sources about people dying from scratches and gemarot about the dangers of bloodletting. Therefore, he says, donating blood is a righteous but voluntary act. It is easy to argue with the Tzitz Eliezer because the sources he refers to relate to hemophiliacs or to the type of procedures that are no longer done.
Therefore, in a case where participation of a specific person in blood donation is of particular urgency and there is no special reason to suspect danger for him, he can be coerced if necessary to give. Practically, it is much wiser and more appropriate to appeal for his agreement or to offer positive incentives.
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