Law protects blood donor anonymity


Published: Thursday, January 20, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 at 10:50 p.m.
They may share their blood freely, but many blood donors likely would not want to share their identity.
And the Florida Legislature this spring will have a chance to keep it that way.
With a Bloodmobile parked behind him at the Newberry Road headquarters of LifeSouth Community Blood Centers, State Rep. Larry Cretul on Wednesday announced his sponsorship of the "Blood Donor Protection Act."
He said the bill, designed to help strengthen a 20-year-old law protecting the anonymity of blood donors, will be one of his top priorities in the legislative session that begins March 8.
"The confidentiality and anonymity of blood donors is very important. . .to keep an adequate and safe blood supply," Cretul told an audience of about 50 people gathered in the blood center parking lot, many of them LifeSouth staff.
The Ocala Republican is the House sponsor of the blood-donor bill. Sen. Rod Smith, D-Alachua, is sponsoring it in the Senate.
Another speaker, Dale Malloy, former president of the American Association of Blood Banks, said the blood-collection community welcomes the proposed legislation.
"People donate blood with the expectation of confidentiality of their identity and medical information," said Malloy, president and chief executive officer of Florida/Georgia Blood Alliance. "(The bill) allows donors to continue to be quiet heroes and it helps maintain a readily available blood supply."
He said the bill is necessary because volunteer blood donors are excluded from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, the federal medical privacy law of 1996. The best protection blood donors now have, Malloy said, is blood centers' steadfast refusal to disclose the identity of or any other information about donors.
"Some trial courts have threatened to identify volunteer blood donors," he said. "Identifying a donor would have a chilling effect on our blood supply. . .and would provide an opportunity to shut down blood donations."
Malloy said he doesn't know of an instance in which a blood center has been forced, by the courts or otherwise, to reveal the identity of a donor. But the fact that courts are attempting to get such information, he said, is cause for concern.
"Having this law will provide the protection of donors' identity," he said.
The process of donating blood includes answering a long list of medical and lifestyle questions. Some of the information is of a very personal nature, including sexual history.
Cretul - a longtime blood donor who became a recipient last year because of a bleeding ulcer - said his bill would clarify the intent of the Legislature when it passed a blood-donor confidentiality law in 1985.
"Their intent was total anonymity," he said. "This would safeguard those who would have some reservations about donating blood" if there was a chance their information could be revealed.
An example, Cretul said, would be a divorce proceeding in which one spouse demands information obtained by a blood center that took a donation from the other spouse.
Malloy estimated there are close to a million blood donors in Florida. LifeSouth, which includes blood centers in Florida, Georgia and Alabama, collects about 4,000 pints of blood a week, with about 600 pints collected weekly in Gainesville.
Perry McGriff, a member of LifeSouth's board of directors - who has donated 44 gallons of blood since his college days - said the threat of being identified could reduce the willingness of people to donate blood.
He said that even with the strict screening technology in the blood collection system, it's possible a donor could unknowingly pass something on to a recipient. For example, he said, a donor could have been exposed to the West Nile virus and not known it at the time of the donation.
"You give blood and somebody gets sick and the next thing you know you're in a lawsuit," said McGriff, a Gainesville insurance agent and former member of the Florida House who lost his District 22 seat to Cretul in 2002. "This bill will help protect volunteer donors from being exposed."
Cretul said his schedule didn't permit him to roll up his sleeve after the ceremony. So he said his legislative aide, Michael Luethy, would give a pint.
Luethy, obviously not minding being publicly identified as a blood donor, acknowledged the audience's applause.
Bob Arndorfer can be reached at (352) 374-5042 or arndorb@gvillesun.com.

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