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Why Gay Men Can't Donate Blood

Gay Men and Blood Donation

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Why Gay Men Can't Donate Blood © Adam Gault/Getty

There is a blood shortage throughout the United States as patients desperately wait for blood and bone marrow donations. Blood donations save lives and the circumstances in which they are needed often require immediate attention.

There are many factors that need to be considered before a suitable donor can be found—the most crucial being blood type compatibility. Donors of rare blood types are increasingly difficult to find, prolonging the search and decreasing the chance of a patient's survival.

What if a donor with a needed blood type happens to be gay?
In response to the AIDS crisis of the 1980's the Food and Drug Administration banned any man who has had sex with another man since 1977 from giving blood. The 1985 provision argued that men who have sex with other men are at higher risk of contracting and transmitting HIV and hepatitis, posing a health risk to potential recipients.

Can the patient choose?
Unfortunately, patients are not informed of viable gay blood donors and does not have the opportunity to decide if they are willing to accept the donation.

Medical fact or homophobia?

The Case Against: Banning Gay Donors is Prejudice
Gay advocate Peter Tatchell states that the ban on gay blood donors "is based on the assumption that all homosexual and bisexual men are 'high risk' for HIV" and that the "policy seems to reflect homophobic prejudices, not medical facts."

Others argue that by excluding any man who has had sex with another man since 1977 proves the homophobic nature of the policy. The quality and timeliness of HIV and AIDS evaluations has improved dramatically, producing results within days or even minutes. Since most blood transfusions require weeks of preparation there is ample time to re-test as a precaution. Not to mention, the policy virtually ignores the health risk posed by heterosexual donors who've been exposed to HIV or AIDS.

The Case Against: Banning Gay Donors Protects the Health of Recipients
The following is the FDA's response taken from their website:

"In 1983, FDA recommended donor-screening procedures to exclude individuals at increased risk for transmitting Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the virus that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). These recommendations have been updated periodically since then. The exclusion of potential donors based on certain sexual histories has been discussed often, and in-depth, by FDA's Blood Products Advisory Committee (BPAC). This panel of non-FDA independent experts continues to recommend the deferral of men who have sex with other men and their recent partners. This issue was discussed at the December 11-12, 1997, BPAC meeting. The committee voted to reconsider the current recommendations for deferral of men who have had sex with other men. However, at that time the committee did not specify what the specific recommendations should be. Data on the incidence and prevalence of HIV and other viruses in men who have had sex with other men and data on HIV positive blood donors were presented at the November 23, 1998, FDA Workshop on Blood Donor Suitability..."

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