Letters to the EditorOpinion

Donate blood for those who can’t

This week, thousands of units of blood will be donated to the Lane Memorial Blood Bank by University students as part of the Civil War Blood Drive. Unfortunately, the federal government has banned me from being able to give my blood to people who need it. What great crime have I committed to earn this ban?

I am a gay man. And like millions of other queer Americans, the federal government says that my sexual orientation makes me unfit to donate blood for the rest of my life.

Twenty-five years ago, this policy might have been reasonable. In 1983, when the FDA instituted the ban, there was almost no understanding of HIV or AIDS. Moreover, there was no reliable way to test for HIV in blood donors, and since HIV was most prevalent among men that had sexual contact with other men, the ban was likely the best option to try to secure the nation’s blood supply.

Today, many of these facts have changed. All blood is now tested for HIV prior to being administered to those who need it. These tests are vastly more accurate than what was available in 1983 and can detect the presence of HIV in blood within 10 to 21 days of initial transmission. The Federal Drug Administration estimates that less than one out of every 1,000,000 tests fail to identify an HIV-positive donor. However, even with these advances in knowledge and technology, the FDA continues to enforce the lifetime ban.

Perhaps more appalling is the fact that men who engage in homosexual contact are treated more severely than people who participate in activities that greatly increase the risk of transmitting HIV. For example, if someone admits to engaging in prostitution or using drugs intravenously, they are only banned from giving blood for one year. If the FDA can detect HIV within 10 to 21 days of initial contact and feels confident enough to allow people to donate blood just one year after participating in high-risk activities, then what logical or scientific reason is there for banning homosexual men for life? Or does it simply come down to homophobia?

Donating your blood is one of the most generous gifts that you can give, even if you never meet the recipient. If not for this outdated and seemingly illogical ban, I and thousands of other homosexual men would be able to give blood to people whose very lives might depend on it ­— with the same degree of safety that comes with every blood donation.

In the long run, the FDA should take a hard look at the lifetime ban and objectively determine if it’s a policy rooted in good science or outdated bigotry. This is not just a matter of guaranteeing an adequate supply of blood for emergencies, but ensuring that our scientific decisions are based solely on facts, and never on hate.

In the meantime, please do what I cannot: Give blood today. Know not only that your donation can potentially save a life, but that you can help spread awareness about this outdated and discriminatory policy. I hope that someday the federal government will give me and every other homosexual man the right to help save lives.

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