First Do No Harm (Primum Non Nocer): Film Review

This info-packed doc about the dangers of blood transfusions makes a persuasive if ultimately stultifying case.

James Reynolds' documentary makes the alarming case for the ill effects of blood transfusions.

Anyone who’s ever had a blood transfusion will likely watch Primum Non Nocere: First Do No Harm with a mounting sense of alarm. This impassioned documentary about the myriad health risks associated with the standard practice is enough to make anyone cry “No” when confronted with the possibility of the procedure the next time they have the misfortune to visit an emergency room.

Directed by James Reynolds, the film presents a detailed history—perhaps an overly detailed one for those viewers who don’t happen to be attending medical school—of the practice, which first received widespread acceptance as a lifesaving emergency measure during World War I.

It also includes myriad and often highly technical refutations of the procedure’s advisability by a vast array of doctors and researchers, who talk about such dangers as the dangerously short shelf of blood; the significant possibility of the transmission of disease; and the fact that many recipients of transfusions later reveal evidence of possessing the donors’ DNA. Also discussed at great length is the medical establishment’s frequent unwillingness to accept new knowledge that contradicts entrenched ideas, a phenomenon known as the “Semmelweiss Reflex” named for the doctor who first posited the notion that mortality rates could be greatly reduced if only doctors disinfected their hands between patient contacts.

Scary stuff, to be sure, but the sheer overload of information is enough to make those not particularly interested in the arcane subject matter increasingly frustrated and bored. What might have made for a fascinating segment on a television newsmagazine program is here stretched out to a numbing 110 minutes, filled with enough facts and statistics to make one wonder whether a pop quiz will be forthcoming.

Still, there’s no denying that the film makes its alarming arguments in persuasive fashion. Let’s hope that enough doctors take time away from their busy schedules to see it.

Opens Friday, Sept. 28 (Asia Geographic)
Director: James Reynolds
Not rated, 110 min.

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