Banning Gay Men from Saving Lives

Blood donation policy still in place  against homosexual men.

Every two seconds, someone in America needs blood. Many students at this school gave blood during the blood drive on Oct. 27, but homosexual and bisexual men are still banned from being allowed to donate, due to an FDA policy dating back to 1983.

Blood is often in short supply. Recent scientific evidence shows a very possible correlation between how long donated blood has been in storage and a patient’s recovery time; thus, donations at regular intervals are ideal. That evidence, however, has not repealed the rule against letting any man who has ever had sex with another man since 1977 donate blood.

Gay and bisexual men are left with the option of either lying about their sexual history or not giving “the gift of life” by donating blood. Especially for those who have received blood donations themselves or have family members whose lives have been saved through donations, it can be quite upsetting to be turned away.

Protests have been staged at college campuses around the country to repeal the policy, which is seen as outdated and prejudicial. The Red Cross would prefer not to discourage young people from starting the habit of giving blood, but they are not in charge of making the policy.

The question really comes down to whether there is any justification for the ban when such significant improvements in testing have been made.  One study determined the ban to cause approximately 66 million fewer donors than had been anticipated. The FDA, having recently revisited the issue, said that the ban is justified, due to gay men still being the largest group found to give tainted blood.

The FDA has agreed that testing procedures have greatly improved over the years, with the likelihood of missing an infected donation being down to literally a one in a million chance, but they still found the risk to be too high and have chosen to continue the ban. According to their website, “Even taking into account that 75 percent of HIV-infected men who have sex with men already know they are HIV positive and would be unlikely to donate blood, the HIV prevalence in potential donors with history of male sex with males is 200 times higher than first-time blood donors and 2000 times higher than repeat blood donors.”

Perhaps the question becomes which policy saves more lives. HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was, and patients, if given the choice, may likely prefer the small risk of infection to the risk of bleeding to death. Still, such segregation of blood donations, an “Emergency Blood Bank” if you will, has its own social ramifications.

Donations to blood plasma centers are denied even to women who have knowingly had sex with a man who has had homosexual sex, thus not just banning gays and bisexual men, but all female partners of bisexual men as well.

Dr. Jeffrey A. Bennett, author of Banning Queer Blood: Rhetorics of Citizenship, Contagion, and Resistance and assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Iowa, will be coming to Westminster College’s Vieve Gore Concert Hall on Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m. to discuss the science, stigma and social ramifications of the issue.

A book signing follows the lecture. The event is sponsored by the Bastian Foundation, a group promoting education and equality for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

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