Growing up, my friends and I found it entertaining to search lists of unusual laws and laugh at the absurdity of certain mandates. Dominoes cannot be played on Sunday in Alabama. It is illegal to take a lion to the theater in Baltimore, Md. And you can’t sell doughnut holes in Lehigh, Neb.
While equally ridiculous, the Food and Drug Administration directive that forbids men who have sex with men from donating blood is anything but laughable. The ban began in 1983 and was retained in 2000 and 2006 during FDA reviews of the issue.When the ban was first implemented, tests to screen for HIV-positive blood did not exist, and the nation was in a state of panic over HIV and AIDS. Scientists knew that gay men were affected disproportionately; the ban was a well-intended — albeit imperfect — effort of containing the crisis and preventing infection of the nation’s blood supply.
However, with today’s sophisticated testing tools, a blanket policy on account of sexual orientation reeks of discrimination. As the rules stand now, a heterosexual person who has had sex with a prostitute can donate as long as the encounter was more than a year ago. Yet men are permanently eliminated from the donor pool if they answer affirmatively to having had sex with a man at any point, “even once,” since 1977. Women, too, are disqualified if they have had sex with a man who has had sex with another man since 1977, but only if that interaction occurred in the last 12 months.
The American Red Cross estimates that someone in the U.S. needs blood every two seconds. The necessity of an ample blood supply is indisputable yet unmet by our current donor pool. In June, with donations down by 10 percent nationwide, the Red Cross received 50,000 fewer donations than expected. An emergency request for blood and platelet donations was put out last week.
Last week’s “National Gay Blood Drive,” an event that had 52 participating cities in Minnesota alone, illustrated the willingness of MSM to help combat the blood shortage. In protest, participants took HIV tests that will be sent to the FDA to prove their eligibility as donors.
Our judgment of blood quality should be determined by individual behavior, not sexual orientation. The FDA must step up and eliminate its prejudiced policy.