Blood Restrictions

This week, a male in Canada was taken off of life support and could not donate his organs…because he was gay. This got me to think about us gays in the U.S. I’ve always wanted to donate blood, but knew I couldn’t. I knew why and, in some way, I kind of understood. I don’t understand why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) groups all of us as “high risk.” I believe that reform will be a step towards equality and a higher blood and organ supply.

Since 1977, any male who has had sex with another male (MSM) is permanently barred from donating. The HIV/AIDS pandemic in the gay community caused this discrimination. While it is still true that MSM are still more heavily affected by the virus, “it is a person’s behavior, not their sexual orientation, that puts them at risk.” A woman who has had sex with a male doesn’t know if her partner has had sex with a male, yet she still is allowed to donate. Not all gays are haphazardly having unsafe sex, a behavior that is seen in all sexual orientation. African-American woman are also at high risk of HIV, but not stopped when donating.

Science has come so far that we have the ability to screen for the virus. No, it is not 100% accurate because of the “‘window period’ of infection, the time before detectable antibodies or antigens are produced.” However, studies are underway to reduce the already small risk.

Recently, activists have been “stepping up their calls for the federal government to change its blood-donation policy” and create certain procedures to allow it. Many groups, including the American Red Cross and American Association of Blood Banks, back a reform. The Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability (ACBSA) reported last May that “several studies were under consideration, and a request for information had been issued for a pilot study on alternative donor deferral criteria for MSM.” However, a decision has still not been made to cart this pilot.

There are two paths that activists see. The first includes a one-year window of abstinence for gay males that wish to donate. The other is a five-year window. Both of these policies are currently in play in other countries around the world.

The permanent ban is completely discriminatory, perhaps lazy, because officials are not looking past that window of infection. To argue that gays have unsafe sex is invalid, people across the board have unsafe sex. A wait is certainly understandable, to be sure that there is no virus. A ban is not.

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