When are infection risks of blood transfusion tolerable? Towards understanding the ethical views of stakeholders in the blood supply

Koen Kramer*, Marcel F. Verweij, Hans L. Zaaijer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background and objectives: The perception of transfusion-transmitted infections (TTIs) is sensitive to various concerns besides the probability and impact of infection, and some of these concerns may be ethically relevant. This paper aims to advance thinking about blood safety policies by exploring and explaining stakeholders’ reasons to consider TTI risks tolerable or intolerable. Materials and methods: Inspired by critical empirical ethics and phenomenological hermeneutics, we held interviews and focus group discussions to explore the moral experience of policymakers, hematologists, blood donors and recipients. Respondents were invited to discuss general concerns about the blood supply, to address the tolerability of TTI risks compared with other hazards and to comment on the costs of blood safety. Arguments for tolerance or intolerance towards TTI risks were analysed qualitatively. Results: Stakeholders’ views could be clustered into seven categories: (1) clinical impact; (2) probability of infection; (3) avoidability of infection; (4) cost and health benefits; (5) other consequences of safety measures; (6) non-consequentialist ethical arguments; and (7) stakeholders’ interests. Various arguments were offered that resonate with current ethical thinking about blood safety. Assuming that resources spent on inefficient blood safety measures could be applied more beneficially elsewhere, for example, responders typically expressed tolerance towards TTI risks. Some other arguments seem novel, for instance arguments for risk intolerance based on the low probability of infection and arguments for risk tolerance if patients have a poor prognosis. Conclusion: Understanding the moral experience of stakeholders enriches ethical debate about blood safety and prepares developing more widely acceptable policies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)658-665
Number of pages8
JournalVox Sanguinis
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • acceptability
  • blood donation
  • blood donor
  • blood recipient
  • risk
  • transfusion-transmitted infection


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