Bioethics Blogs

At Long Last: FDA Changes the Law for Hemochromatosis

by Arthur Caplan, Ph.D.

Summer in the U.S. is known for many things—time at the beach, picnics, baseball, thunderstorms, vacations and ice cream. Sadly, it is also known by hospitals as the season when blood is in short supply. Schools and businesses close making blood drives harder. Frequent donors go away leaving blood and blood products in their communities in short supply. That is why a recent hard-fought breakthrough as to who can donate blood deserves much more attention and recognition than it has received which, if Google is to be believed, to date has been exactly nothing.

Hemochromatosis is a genetic disease that causes the human body to absorb too much iron from food. The excess iron can damage vital organs like the heart and the liver. The disease is more common in Caucasians and in men. The solution to these problems—get rid of excess iron by frequent bleeding. Hemochromatosis is the one disease that justifies all the horrific blood letting engaged in by medicine over the centuries. Giving blood gets rid of the iron.

So you might think if some people need blood and some people have to frequently get rid of a lot of iron-rich blood frequently then why don’t they use blood from those with hemochromatosis? Very good question. Why has it taken so long? Partly because hemochromatosis is a disease and that led to confusion about the safety of blood from affected people. There is no safety issue. The FDA has, after 8 years of fighting, asking, hoping and lobbying, issued a rule that recognizes exactly that.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.