Why I stopped donating Blood…

Blood bagAbout this time a year ago, I made a decision that went against several years of one of my coming-of-age traditions: I stopped donating blood.

The time after time I’ve donated blood, I was asked several questions regarding my personal mannerisms including my sexual proclivities, most notable was:

“Have you had sex with another male, even once?”

I knew there was a “lifetime deferral” on those who are gay (or, “Men who have Sex with Men,” or “MSM” in FDA and ARC parlance…) but I finally sat down one night and looked into why.

According to the Human Rights Campaign:

quote-open“Current federal regulations require any man who has had sex since 1977 with another man, even once, to be deferred from donating blood. Blood centers nationwide screen potential donors by asking a set of questions written to determine risk factors that could indicate possible infection with a transmissible disease, such as HIV or hepatitis. According to the Food and Drug Administration, this pre-screening eliminates up to 90 percent of donors who may be carrying a blood-borne disease.”

Who writes the policy?  HRC continues:

quote-openThe FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research regulates and establishes standards for the collection of blood and blood products. The center receives advise on this issue by the Blood Products Advisory Council, which meets regularly to consider issues such as altering the pool of potential blood donors.

When I found out there are two separate tests done specifically for HIV/AIDS, one being the “standard” HIV/AIDS screening, and also the Nucleic Acid Testing.  The first of which, which is just a straight viral load test, is over 95% accurate.  However, NAT testing is well over 97% effective.  As both tests are performed on blood, both make the mathematical probability of contracting HIV from a transfusion a near-impossibility.  While no test is 100% effective, that’s assuming those who chose to donate blood tell the truth about their activities.

Finding this offensive, and a final vestige of America’s 1980s panic regarding homosexuals and HIV/AIDS, I called the FDA and spoke to a Public Affairs Director (who was the “equivalent of a GS-13”) who stated that this was still in place “not because of a homophobic policy,” but because “Men who have Sex With Men are simply, mathematically the highest risk population for engaging in behavior that would lead to HIV infections.”

Is the policy outdated?  Or is it simply a matter of data?  My answer should be obvious — it’s why I no longer donate blood.  If a gay man who’s perfectly healthy can’t help save the life of someone, why should I be able to?

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