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Do New Federal Rules Discriminate Against Gay, Bisexual, and MSM Blood Donors?

Does the U.S. ban on blood donated by men who have sex with men (MSM) make the national blood supply safer?

For nearly 30 years now, dating back to the early years of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the U.S. has enforced a lifetime ban on blood donations from any man who has had sex with another man since 1977, even once, regardless of the potential donor’s HIV status. After three decades of controversy and protest, the FDA has announced that that this policy will be modified this year, reducing the lifetime ban to a one-year abstinence period.

Blood Donor Discrimination Is Still Being Enforced

At Tree of Life Health Advocates, we respectfully do not agree with the FDA. In fact, we regard the one-year abstinence requirement as discriminatory and without scientific merit. We affirm the view that “blood donation policies should be fairly applied to all prospective donors and should not discriminate—or be perceived to discriminate—on the basis of sexual identity, race, national origin, or other categories.”1 The one-year abstinence rule contravenes the science of risk assessment in public health, which evaluates individuals’ behavior or exposure level, not their categorical status.

In 1985, when the ban on MSM donors was implemented, technologies for screening the nation’s blood supply were comparatively crude. Today, they are not. Before donated blood can be shipped for transfusions or manufactured into its components, it is screened using a nucleic acid test, which is a more sophisticated technology than an HIV antibody test. Once HIV can be detected, infected blood is discarded after the brief window of 9 to 11 days. But there is no scientific evidence that supports the view that one year of sexual abstinence by MSM blood donors can make the national blood supply any safer than it already is. It is irrational to believe otherwise.

Adding Incremental Blood Reserves

It’s predicted that the expected rule change could add 317,000 pints of blood to the national blood supply, an increase of only 2% to 4% annually. But this figure would be doubled if the discriminatory, one-year abstinence provision of the rule change were dropped.

The U.S. blood supply is highly seasonal. When donations drop, an urgent need for blood and platelets occurs across the country, according to the American Red Cross. To disenfranchise one group of willing donors is to waste the gift of life. This is an extravagance that we cannot afford to perpetuate. It may also constitute a violation of civil rights.

Finally, please remember that if you have a healthcare challenge, I want to be your advocate. To learn more about how I can help, visit my Services page.

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1Gay Men’s Health Crisis, 2010. A Drive for Change: Reforming U.S. Blood Donation Policies, p. 20. Retrieved from http://www.gmhc.org/files/editor/file/a_blood_ban_report2010.pdf