Box 3.1 RACE & BLOOD
Hans Serelman was a doctor in Germany in 1935. His patient needed a blood transfusion, which at the time was done by finding a live donor (‘donor-on-the-hoof’) rather than stored blood. Unable to find a suitable donor quickly enough, the doctor opened his own artery and donated his blood. Rather than receiving praise, the Jewish doctor was sent to a concentration camp for defiling the blood of the German race.
In the succeeding years, Germany moved to eliminate the ‘Jewish influence’ from medicine by limiting their access to patients and medical school. In order to bolster claims of Aryan supremacy, the study of blood became a focus for distinguishing Aryans from Jews. The combined effects of these initiatives dealt a self-inflicted wound on the Nazi war effort. The more than 8,000 Jewish doctors barred from practice were replaced by hastily trained and inexperienced paramedics. The infusion of mythology and misapplied anthropology set back serious scientific research on blood. The Nuremberg Blood Protection Laws severely limited the availability of blood for transfusions because of the possibility of being charged with ‘an attack on German blood’ if the donor could not prove it was pure Aryan blood (Starr 1998:26).
In the U.S., the topic of ‘colored’ versus ‘white’ blood also stirred up controversy. The Red Cross knew that ‘blood was blood’ and did not differ by race, but followed the wishes of the military and refused to collect blood from African Americans. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the large demand for blood to treat many wounded soldiers, they collected blood from Blacks, but labeled and processed it separately. As historian Douglas Starr notes, “the policy proved offensive to many Americans because the country was, after all, fighting a racist enemy” (1998 108). A New York Times editorial commented that “the prejudice against Negro blood for transfusions is all the more difficult to understand because many a Southerner was nursed at the breast of a Negro nanny… Sometimes we wonder whether this is really an age of science” (in Starr 1998: 108).
In the late 1950s, Arkansas passed a law requiring the segregation of blood. Louisiana, home of the Plessy case, “went so far as to make it a misdemeanor for physicians to give a white person black blood without asking permission” (Starr 1998: 170). The segregation of blood ended during the 1960s, more because of the civil rights movement than further advances in science.