This past week, Rollins hosted a blood drive for students, staff and community members to donate. Blood drives like these are imperative to have all over our country since there is always a shortage of blood for hospital patients, especially those with rare types.
When our country is in such a need of blood donations, it would be contradictory to blindly turn down a group of people for donations, but America, in fact, does do this. To my astonishment, blood banks prohibit men who have had sexual intercourse with men (MSM) from donating. This includes gay men and other men who may or may not be gay, but have had sexual intercourse with men.
The Food and Drug Administration’s rationale for this ban is that it considers MSM a high risk of carrying the HIV virus. This stereotypical and outdated thought process comes from the early 1980s when HIV and AIDS were seen as a disease that solely affected homosexuals. However, today most people realize this is no longer the case; over 40 million men, women and children live with HIV in the world today.
Once blood is donated, it goes through a rigorous screening process, so the blanket ban on denying all MSM to donate seems unnecessary.
Here is another paradox in the FDA’s rules concerning blood donations: if a man has had sex with another man since 1977, he is prohibited from ever donating blood, but if a man has unprotected sex with a high risk woman, he only has to wait 12 months. The FDA states that the “policy is based on the documented increased risk of certain transfusion transmissible infections, such as HIV, associated with male-to-male sex and is not based on any judgment concerning the donor’s sexual orientation,” but, obviously, there is some stigma attached to this rule if they will allow straight men who are more susceptible to HIV to donate.
If MSM had to follow the one-year waiting rule if they had sex with an affected partner like other heterosexuals, this would yield an estimated 89,000 additional pints annually, according to a study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.
Meghan Thomas ‘11, president of Spectrum, had this to say about this blanket ban: “I feel so strongly about this McCarthyesque, discriminatory practice that I refuse to give blood. I am O-, the rarest and most valuable blood, but how can I donate it when there is such blatant oppression toward the people I identify with? Whenever blood drive people try to ask me to donate, I tell them that I refuse. They are mostly confused; as it seems, most do not even know this practice exists! The day that MSM are allowed to give blood is the day that I will donate as much blood as I am allowed.”
Various gay rights groups, The American Red Cross, the American Association of Blood Banks, and America’s Blood Centers all strongly criticize the FDA’s policy and have been working to change it. This past June Health and Human Services unfortunately voted against lifting the ban, but recommended more research be done to investigate the risk.
Hopefully, the FDA sees the contradictions in its biased policy soon and more blood will be added to our currently low blood bank reserves.