Blood donation restrictions for gay men unfair, outdated
Current Food and Drug Administration standards prohibit men who have had sex with other men (MSM) from donating blood. A person who has had recent piercings, has used intravenous drugs or has had a tattoo in the last year is temporarily, not permanently, banned from donating.
The MSM exclusion is for “blood safety,” but it has become outdated and frankly, homophobic. While the FDA estimates that only two percent of the entire U.S. population constitutes the pool of banned donors, only about 9.5 million people donate to the American Red Cross every year.
Both the American Red Cross and United Blood Services report that there is a constant shortage of blood. It’s ludicrous that there are permanent exclusions that lack a scientific justification when so many people need blood transfusions — lifting the ban could potentially lead to a large increase in the blood supply.
In the 1980s, thousands of blood transfusion recipients were infected with HIV due to receiving unscreened blood. The FDA then imposed a lifetime ban on homosexual and bisexual blood donations as a result of the scientific misconceptions and prejudice against the gay community during the time. This ban stigmatizes the gay community.
“It’s a prolonged debate about the nature of accepting homosexuality in society,” said Jason Harris, a computer science junior. “It’s a dated, unequal rule that discriminates against people that would be just as happy and willing to donate blood.”
The fact is, risky sexual behavior — such as having multiple partners and not using protection — can lead to HIV infections in homosexual and heterosexual couples.
Many people are hesitant to tell their partners about their sexual history, which can increase the spread of sexually transmitted diseases among heterosexuals and homosexuals. It’s ridiculous to exclude all homosexual men when heterosexual individuals are also at risk.
HIV and AIDS were commonly referred to as a “gay disease” during their inception in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, but that logic is now debunked and fallacious — anyone who engages in any sexual activity is at risk for sexually transmitted diseases, a fact the blood services seem to ignore.
What’s even more offensive is that if you’re heterosexual, you can donate your blood whether or not you engage in risky sexual or physical behavior. Regardless of whether or not you have had sex with a prostitute, an intravenous drug user, or an HIV positive sexual partner of the opposite sex, you can donate your blood within 13 months of that choice, though the Red Cross recommends against it.
All consenting adults who decide to give blood should have to provide a medical history that includes testing for sexually transmitted infections and diseases. There should be no discrimination based on sexual orientation, just like there should be no discrimination based on race. While heterosexuals get deferred for a year, homosexuals are banned for life.
The American Red Cross and the United Blood Services should abandon their outdated model of pre-donation screening and become progressive entities in a socially progressive world and to increase blood donations in a nation constantly short on blood.
Nick Havey is a sophomore studying pre-physiology and Spanish. Follow him @nihavey.