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The duty and joy of giving blood

05 April 2013

Christians have a responsibility to be generous in donation, says Joanne Cox


THE phone call drilled its way through my sleep. The voice at the other end informed me that my father was being rushed into hospital. The next few hours passed in a mysterious whirl of worried staccato updates, inarticulate prayers, and the foreboding, aching silence of night. Powerful words were whispered cautiously by members of the family and medical professionals: blood, units, rupture, intervention, donation, wishes, stable, waiting.

Our story could have been very different, had it not been for the nine people who donated blood that week. We were one family whose future was transformed by the generosity of nine courageous, unknown volunteers, who each gave one hour of time and one unit of blood. They saved my father's life.

Blood- and organ-donation statistics in the UK are startling: 96 per cent of the population rely on only four per cent to give blood; 96 per cent of the population say that they would accept a donated organ if they needed one, yet only 31 per cent are on the donor register; 7000 units of blood are needed every day; and about 225,000 more donors are needed per year. And 1000 people die every year waiting for an organ transplant. Yet it is firmly in our power to do something about it.

I FIRST gave blood when I was at university. My simple logic then was that I did not really need all of it. I signed up, lay on the bed, and took advantage of the free biscuits. Registering for blood and organ donation has become simpler since then - it is even part of the application process for driving licences and Boots Advantage Cards.

My logic has developed, too, since those early steps towards the custard creams. I no longer see donation as a charitable act: now, I think of it as nothing less than a Christian duty. Christians are called to be good stewards of the earth and all that is in it. Generosity is part of that vocation - in this case, being a good steward of the lifeblood and body that God has given each of us. It is one way in which we can be generous with our bodies; throughout our lives and beyond our death.

Giving, tithing, and generosity are not only to do with money and time: they are also about the ways in which we use and abuse our bodies. We are to offer life in all its fullness to those who need hope in the most desperate situations. Blood and organ donation is a duty and a responsibility for Christians.

It is not surprising, then, that Christians are leading the way. Research by the "fleshandblood" campaign ( News, 1 February) suggests that ten per cent of churchgoers have given blood in the past year, compared with four per cent of the general population who have given blood in the past two years; and almost half of all Christians are on the organ-donor register (compared with 31 per cent of the population).

But it is disappointing that many churches do not see blood and organ donation as an integral part of their giving. In the same survey, only 0.3 per cent of respondents said that donation was a frequent part of their church's teaching, and more than 75 per cent said that neither blood nor organ donation was ever mentioned by their church, despite the use of many church halls as donation venues. It is not enough simply to be a hospitable venue: we need to roll up our own sleeves and make more of a difference.

CHRISTIANS have a tendency to be squeamish when it comes to talking frankly about blood and bodies and bodily functions. It is seen as a conversation for sanitised corridors and trained professionals. But Christians worship a flesh-and-blood Messiah, who "emptied himself of all but love" for our sake.

Of course, not everyone is able to give in this way - often because of health problems - but the reality is that many more can give than actually do so. Contrary to popular understanding, there is no upper age limit for donation, and I have found that taking regular medication has been no bar to donating blood or organs. Many may be surprised that they can play their part, despite their age or health conditions.

The Church has a unique opportunity both to be generous (and thus to donate), and also to encourage the demystification of blood and bodies. We cannot leave it to gothic teen-fiction such as Twilight, or the horrors of hospital-based reality TV to capture all the significance of blood for the lives of recipients.

Through blood and organ donation, we can catalyse a conversation about bodily processes and fluids which challenges the implicit separation of the body and the spirit present in so much contemporary Christian thinking. Such separation is, perhaps, the unhelpful legacy of hundreds of years of misinterpretation of St Paul, and the suggestion that, while the spiritual is eternal, the physical is irrelevant.

If St Paul really thought that that was true, he would not have been so prescriptive about what early Christians should be doing with their physical wealth, their time, and their bodies. Wholeness in living means living with flesh, skin, sinew, muscle, organ, blood, and plasma. Our bodies are not the enemy, but the very gift of God - and it is our responsibility to celebrate and use them as we should the other gifts that we have been given.

There is nothing more powerful than offering life to those who need it. Our faith teaches us that acts of selfless generosity transform both the donor and the recipient. For the donor, there is evidence that the endorphins released in the process of donation brings a feeling of euphoria. This aside, there is pride in knowing that, within a short period of time, you will have contributed to transforming the trauma of a family's grief to a narrative about the generous donation of new life.

And recipients can tell their story with confidence, recognising that they have received a precious gift - life, and a fresh start.

Blood donation is now part of my regular tithing - and, in turn, offers others the chance of life. As with my father, it is a matter of life and death.

The Revd Dr Joanne Cox is Evangelism in Contemporary Culture Officer for the Methodist Church.

For resources for churches about blood and organ donation, visit www.fleshandblood.org.

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