MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Hundreds of thousands of people across the county lined up to give blood after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- something unheard of for blood banks.
Now, news last week that some blood would go to waste has exposed long-standing conflicts between the two organizations that provide Minnesotans blood.
Red Cross, whose St. Paul-based blood-services unit routinely exports blood to other states, collected all it could after the attacks -- and now will destroy 20 percent of the unused red blood cell units because they are about to perish. Some blood products won't go to waste.
Minneapolis-based Memorial Blood Centers of Minnesota collected only the blood it could use in the weeks after the attacks, asking many donors to return later. Unlike Red Cross, Memorial sells blood only to area hospitals.
Now, Memorial officials say that Red Cross had a financial incentive to collect the blood and sell it elsewhere. Red Cross officials responded that fears of additional attacks warranted the large-scale blood collections.
Though both are nonprofits built on the altruism of citizens, the two blood banks are intense competitors -- for blood donors and hospital customers.
Their philosophical differences surfaced with the announcement by the Red Cross North Central Blood Services that it would destroy 8,000 units of red blood cells that had reached the end of their 42-day shelf life.
Red Cross officials stand by their decision to continue accepting donations in September even though few attack survivors needed blood.
"It would have been tragic had there been another (terrorist) event and we didn't have the blood," said Jon Siess, spokesman for Red Cross blood services in St. Paul. Red Cross went from a chronic blood shortage to a surplus, he said.
Jeff Kahn, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota, criticized the Red Cross.
"You are asking people to be altruistic and then wasting the gift," he said. "It's irresponsible, at least, and it will make people think twice about donating the next time."
Memorial, one of 450 independent U.S. blood banks, told donors after Sept. 11 to return in a few weeks when the blood stockpiles would need replenishing.
"We had to make some tough decisions," said Dr. Jed Gorlin, Memorial's medical director. "We turned away a lot of donors. That was difficult ... and some were angry when they left."
Gorlin said the "Red Cross said 'Keep the spigots open. Let's have more."'
Memorial draws about 350 units a day primarily from people in the Twin Cities metro area and the Arrowhead region, supplying about 27 Minnesota hospitals.
By not turning away donors after Sept. 11, Red Cross also "gained names and numbers of new donors," said Scott Caswell, director of public affairs for Memorial.
Memorial also got names and numbers from the potential donors they turned away, but they took the risk they might not come back. Donors are less likely to return if they are rejected the first time, Caswell said.
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