[FOUNTAIN]Taboos and apprehensions

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[FOUNTAIN]Taboos and apprehensions

In 1667, a Frenchman beat his wife and burned his house down in a fit of rage. People took the deranged man to Jean Denis, Louis XVI’s physician. Dr. Denis drew out about 300 cubic centimeters of blood from the man and replaced it with blood from a calf.
It was believed the animal blood would make the patient’s mind clear. But when the man died, the doctor was put on trial. He was released when it was disclosed during the trial that the wife of the dead man had laced her husband’s food with poison and tried to cover up the attempted murder by denouncing the transfusion.
The first blood transfusion was thus mixed with superstitions and plots. At the time, there were two contradictory views; one was the mysticism that made people believe that replacement of blood could heal mental diseases, and the other was a solemn view that blood, the source of life, should not be handled recklessly. In medieval times, it was unknown that mixtures of different types of blood destroyed red blood cells. As the “experiments” of mystics failed, transfusions became taboo. In 1678, Britain had banned them as well.
In 1818, a British doctor, James Blundel, challenged the taboo. He transfused human blood to a gastric cancer patient. The patient got better temporarily but died after three days. Dr. Blundel kept transfusing to patients who bled after childbirth, only to fail. After the pathologist Karl Landsteiner discovered human blood groups in 1901, the era of avoiding transfusion was put to an end because the side effects of transfusions were greatly reduced. During the two world wars, transfusions saved millions of lives.
Recently, the global village has suffered blood supply shortages as younger people avoid them. Not only did blood donation from soldiers and students decrease, but the perception of blood donations also took a turn for the worse as people contracted diseases like AIDS through transfusions. The United States has had a headache in recent years, because the demand for blood rises 1 percent each year but the supply of blood drops 1 percent. We face the same problem of short supply in Korea, to the extent that emergency patients cannot undergo surgery because there is no blood in stock. In an age when the taboo on transfusions has been lifted, a crisis of transfusions has emerged.


by Lee Kyu-youn

The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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