Column: America’s discriminatory blood restriction

Allowing bisexual and homosexual men to donate their blood will allow the blood supply to increase by 2 to 4 percent. So why aren’t we allowing it?

This past week, according to The Guardian, a group of advisers met for two days to discuss the ban enforced by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) against the donation of blood from men who have had sex with another man (MSM) since 1977, the year the AIDS epidemic effectively began.

The administration enacted this ban due to the fact that there is a substantial increased risk for HIV, Hepatitis B and other infections among bisexual and homosexual males. The FDA states on its website it is “based on the documented increased risk of certain transfusion transmissible infections, such as HIV, associated with male-to-male sex and is not based on any judgment concerning the donor's sexual orientation.”

However, many LGBT and blood-donation advocates argue against this ban and statement. If the panel decides to remove the restriction, only homosexual and bisexual men who have been abstinent for a year would be allowed to donate blood.

This ban is highly irrelevant in today’s world and is discrimination. The policy was established in 1983, when HIV and AIDS were rampant new diseases. Scientists and the general population were frightened of this deadly infection and they knew very little about it. It would make sense for this policy to be in place to take extra precautions against its spread by targeting the most affected group.

However, the science behind HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases has come a long way since then. Scientists have developed rigorous testing schemes that can detect diseases transmitted by blood shortly after the person is infected. Every donation is screened for HIV and other communicable diseases through “multiple layers of safeguards,” such as donor screening and blood testing, according to the FDA.

Furthermore, MSNBC points out the accuracy of Nucleic Acid Testing, which can detect HIV in the bloodstream as soon as nine days after infection. This test could easily weed out any donor with HIV.

This restriction is no longer needed because our country has access to a wealth of information on these diseases and testing materials that can keep others safe. It is true that MSMs are at a higher risk of developing STDs. (According to ABC, they account for at least 62 percent of all new HIV infections), and there should be proactive steps to combat the spread of these diseases. However, excluding a whole subset of the population from donating blood because they are at a higher risk of carrying certain diseases is not the right way to treat this problem.

Donating blood is an extremely compassionate act, and many people have a reason for doing it other than donating for the sake of donating. The U.S. should welcome healthy individuals who want to make donations with open arms, not turn them away based on their sexual orientation.

Allowing MSMs to donate blood would also be beneficial to the FDA’s interests. America’s Blood Centers reports that as of Dec. 2, there are 76 community blood centers in the U.S. Sixteen of those centers are out of or close to running out of their blood supplies. The Williams Institute has predicted that, if MSMs were allowed to donate blood, it would increase the number of donations by 360,600 each year, which would be equivalent to about 615,300 extra pints of blood. The national blood supply would increase by two to four percent and would be able to save more than 1.8 million lives.

The ban on bisexual and homosexual men donating blood needs to be abolished. The U.S. has the necessary equipment and knowledge to combat STDs without barring healthy and capable men from donating blood. The restriction is outdated and based on discriminatory tactics, not proven science. It is time for the U.S. to look forward in enacting complete equality for the LGBT community in all areas of the government.

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