First thing I have to admit is that I am not a blood donor. I am willing to have my body torn apart when I die for organ and tissue donation, but I am scared of needles. I know that it is a good thing to do, but at the same time I get anxious enough when I have to give blood at the Doctor’s office. Due to that I have never taken a big look at the rules for blood donation, put together by the FDA Blood Products Advisory Panel.
Then I found a story on Jezebel that made me decide to take a second look at the rules. They claim, along with an article in Mother Jones, that the rule bans gay and bisexual men from donating blood. In some thoughts this is true, but specifically the rule states that any man who has sex with other men is banned from donating blood. This means that any sexually active gay and / or bisexual men cannot donate blood, but there are still a multitude of problems with this ruling. One being that we do not take the sexual activity of any other group into account about whether they can donate blood and that our society equates being gay or bisexual with having sex, which itself is not accurate. The more interesting thing is the number of respected groups that disagree with this ruling.
No Blood or Tissue Donation for Gay / Bisexual Men
Technically, from what I have found the ruling actually states that men who have sex with men since 1977 are not allowed to give blood or tissue. This rule was implemented in 1982 following the AIDS crisis in the United States. This disease started out much more heavily affecting gay men at that time and there was not a reliable way to test for the disease. Now the test, apparently, is not 100% effective, but we do have a way to screen for HIV and we know that it is not just transmitted from men to men. We also can encourage safe and protected sex for everybody and routine testing. I could almost see it being more reasonable for proof of a clean STD test in the last 6 months in order to donate rather than this wide sweeping ruling. It seems to unfairly separate one segment of society and by not allowing them to donate blood sends a strong message that they are dirty.
The compounded problem on top of that is that we as a society view someone who says they are gay or bisexual as someone who must know that because they had sex. In a separate book that I read called Torn, written by a man who is a gay Christian, talking about his struggle with discovering that he is gay and how that works with his faith. It is a powerful book and one of the biggest issues that he discovered was the opinion that gay means you are having sex with other men. Even though he was a virgin and still strongly held on to his faith, many other Christians in his church could not fathom that someone could be gay and not be having sex. Now take this for blood donation locations. The people manning the booths are told that men who have sex with men cannot donate. This means that even if a gay or bisexual man claims to be celibate and a virgin they would refuse because the idea does not seem to stick in our mind. One commenter stated that they had a gay relative who had chosen to live a celibate life, but when he passed they would not allow his tissue to be donated. Now obviously there are people who would lie about that, but it makes a broad and sweeping generalization about a group that does not always apply.
FDA Reasoning and Explanation
Now the FDA has a whole page dedicated to discussing why this policy exists and there decision behind it. When they discuss the issue they use the term MSM for men who have sex with men. This could technically mean a lot of things because there are men who identify themselves as heterosexual, but on occasion are willing to have sex with men. There is also some discussion of men who have served significant time incarcerated and may have had sexual relations while in prison. So, technically they are covering more categories than just gay or bisexual, but the problems addressed above still make it highly problematic as a term. The claim is that the CDC states that MSM have a higher rate of HIV and other diseases. Now I did not look at the CDC information, but I would be curious if this is a general look at all MSM or if it is broken down at all. People who have multiple partners are more likely to get an STD then people who are monogamous. People who have unprotected sex with multiple partners are more likely to contract a disease than people who have protected sex with multiple partners. If HIV and AIDS is the concern then isn’t anybody who has anal sex at a higher likelihood of contracting the disease?
Their explanation comes off as sounding reasonable, but at the same time there seems to be holes in the studies and research. Now again, this is without actually looking at the studies posted by the CDC. At the same time they claim that MSM makes up 2% of the population and yet made up 61% of new HIV cases in 2010. Among men who were diagnosed with HIV during that time 77% of those cases were attributed to male to male sex. When I hear that I appreciate more of where they are coming from, but I also don’t fully trust statistics because I know how you can mess with numbers to make it say what you want. The biggest thing that would be interesting to know is to separate out MSM and gay or bisexual. Of the subset of MSM how many claim to be gay or bisexual? Of gay or bisexual men what is the rate of HIV cases and growth? The FDA presents an argument, but it just does not hold water like it should.
One of the big things that makes it particularly difficult to fully support the FDA decision is the fact that the Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers, and American Medical Association all support a wholesale overturn of the ban. These are three highly respected groups within the medical community who are all calling crap on this policy. The Red Cross on their website simultaneously says that MSM cannot donate, but that they will continue to work through the American Association of Blood Banks to see the policy changed. They also provide suggestions for other ways to help. These are the groups who are out in the field collecting, testing, and distributing the donated blood. It seems like their word should mean something when it comes to this. The policy just seems like an antiquated remnant from a time where we knew nothing about HIV and AIDS and not something that belongs in the 21st Century.