Israel's Magen David Adom blood bank will restore the original wording of its forms for blood donors, after pressure from religious groups over the use of gender-neutral terminology.
The questionnaire for donors will once again have the words “father” and “mother” under the boxes that ask where the donor’s parents were born, instead of the recent change to “parent 1” and “parent 2.”
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Officials from the rescue service said the “parent” wording change in the forms, which took effect on October 1, led to thousands of cancellations by blood donors, including blood drives conducted in many Haredi yeshivas – as well as complaints from people who were against this specific change. As a result, the original forms with the words “mother” and “father” will be brought back starting next week.
As far as Magen David Adom is concerned, noting the gender of the parents has no practical implications and the only reason the birth countries of the donor’s parents are included in the questionnaire is that in some cases, they are used to locate potential blood donors from a certain area or ethnic group that could be important for matching blood components for medical reasons, said the officials.
Donors who are bothered by the gender designation issue may change the wording on the form by hand, said MDA officials.
After Meretz’s Nitzan Horowitz, who is openly gay, took office as the new health minister, changes were made to the blood donation policy which included allowing gay men to donate blood under the same conditions as the general population. Accordingly, another change on the questionnaire as of October 1 is that a reason for not being able to donate blood is now under the heading of “high-risk sexual relations,” and no longer focuses on men who have sex with other men. The list includes a range of high-risk sexual behaviors.
The “parent 1” and “parent 2” wording change was made at the same time. The lack of reference to sex or gender was supposed to show the medical establishment’s and the blood bank’s recognition of various matters about gender and family, including same-sex parenting.
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Health care officials say the decision to replace the terms “mother” and “father” followed a letter sent to the committee advising the Health Ministry on blood transfusions that argued for the change. “The change was approved by all members of the committee, including [Orthodox Jewish] men in kippot, no one saw it as an issue,” said one official, who asked to remain anonymous. None of the committee members anticipated the reactions.
Most of the pushback to the change in wording came from observant Jews who decried what they see as a transgression against the definition of a “normal family,” headed by a mother and a father. In addition to direct protests to the rescue service, scheduled blood donation events in Haredi communities and in several religious Zionist yeshivas were canceled.
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, an influential figure in the religious Zionist movement, called on his followers to stop donating blood over the changes to the donor form. In a 36-minute sermon to students that was posted on the internet in late October, Aviner said, “The saving of a soul overrides blood donation,” in an inversion of pikuah nefesh, the principle that saving human life overrides Shabbat prohibitions. He added that in the current circumstances, blood donations help to legitimize homosexuality and perversion.
Continuing, he said: “Magen David Adom shouldn’t interfere in politics, it should take care of people.” Aviner recalled the biblical prohibitions against “sexual inversion,” punishment for which was death. “Of course no one should be killed, God forbid, but there are things that [call for] slamming the table … to stop the spread. … Society sees the social structure as part of the lives of individuals. If someone is doing things that could twist the character of the society, the society should intervene, because it affects me.”
MDA officials attach little significance to the decision to restore “mother” and “father” to the donor form, and do not see it as a capitulation to the Haredi community. “The blood donation issue is important enough not to play into the hands of those who want to use it as a weapon for political or other [purposes]. We want everyone to donate. As we consider the needs of one population we also consider the needs of the other population – we need everyone, and it’s important to us to remove all barriers so that no one will be,” the rescue service said in a statement.