Blood donation, just like any other activities involving the society, also has its own rules and regulations. These pointers serve as the basis for potential, interested donors if they are eligible to give blood or not.
The basic set of rules— such as age limit, weight limit, health status, and identification— is, oftentimes, not a big problem for people who wish to donate, since the bracket for age and weight is very attainable by most of the world’s population (minimum of 17 years old for the age and at least 110 pounds for the weight in the United States). The other rules, though— such as illness history, tattoos/piercings, malaria risk, etcetera— come as a challenge for donors who just want to help. If proven that you have a certain disease that could affect the blood you will be giving, then you will be deferred for as long as you have that illness.
Such is the case of homosexual and bisexual people— especially men. But with the recent news of gay ban on blood donations being scrapped by the authorities, things could be brighter for the gay community and the blood industry… or not.
In this article, we will discover how— and why— homosexual men were banned in the first place, as well as the impact of recent events in both the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and the blood donation community.
BANNED NO MORE
On May 12, 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a new federal policy, stating that homosexual and bisexual men are now allowed to donate blood— a far cry from their situation since they were banned from donating blood.
This statement is included in the FDA’s draft guidance, which was initially proposed last December, and will be used to collect comments/reactions from the public for 60 days before releasing the final policy.
So, what was the reason for this sudden turn of events?
According to Dr. Peter Marks, FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research deputy director, they decided to consider lifting the blood donation ban on gay men because of the events which transpired in Australia, a country which implemented a one-year deferral for homosexuals fifteen years ago. “These studies documented no adverse effects on the safety of the blood supply with a one-year deferral,” Marks said. The innovation in technology and changing times also contributed to the ban being completely obsolete.
If this policy is ever implemented, the US will be one with various countries— such as Sweden, UK, Australia, and Argentina, all of which had already imposed the one-year deferral in gay men— in terms of their regulations in blood donation. Other countries which do not totally ban homosexuals from donating (but have deferrals, too) are South Africa (six months deferral), and Canada (five years deferral).
In addition, the American Medical Association’s president, Dr. Robert Wah, commends the FDA for their life-changing decision to stop the gay ban in blood donation. “The AMA fully supports and has been a strong advocate for eliminating these current public policies as we believe that the latest scientific evidence should dictate blood and tissue donation deferral periods to ensure the safety of the national blood supply,” Wah said. “The AMA’s policy supports using scientifically-based deferral periods that are consistently and fairly applied to donors based on their risk level.”
THE ORIGIN OF THE BAN
Homosexuals, especially men, were not always deferred as blood donors. However, an epidemic in the late 1970s changed the rules and regulations of blood donation when it comes to gay men.
If you are a keen observer of the blood donation rules, you may notice the clause on sexual behavior/disease. One important rule for male blood donors is you cannot donate if you “are a man who has had sex with another man since 1977, even once.” This is the year when the AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, hit the shores of the United States.
Men who have had sexual intercourse with other men, or MSM, were considered to carry HIV or hepatitis B, which can easily affect the quality of their blood. This is why MSM were banned from giving blood at all— until now.
The policy of permanent deferral for MSM— or even people who have had sexual contact with sex workers, injected drugs in their system, or women who engaged in sexual intercourse with a member of the MSM— became apparent in 1983 and was recognized by all blood donation centers until today.
HURRAH FOR GAYS?
This proposed policy seems like a breath of fresh air for gay men who have been wishing to donate blood ever since they reached the required age. But wait— there is more!
According to Marks, almost half of the deferred gay men population will now be able to freely donate blood because of this policy. But, the proposed action will only be good news to those who are not sexually active anymore.
Yes, this “freedom” comes with a little catch: gay men who are sexually active are still restricted from donating blood, since the new US policy will implement a maximum one-year deferral for homosexuals, especially men in monogamous relationships. In short, if you are a man and you just engaged in a same-gender sexual activity in, let us say, the past month, then you are still banned from donating blood.
It does not sound good now, does it?
While it is considered as a small step to the improvement of the way people view the gay community, activists still question the one-year deferral decision. According to Slate columnist Mark Joseph Stern, “The one-year deferral policy is still rooted in an outdated, insulting vision of gay men as diseased, promiscuous lechers. It’s utterly illogical to forbid a monogamous gay man from donating while permitting promiscuous straight people to give as much blood as they want,” he said.
However, this proposed policy will still be beneficial to the gay community. Finally, homosexuals who want to donate blood can do so— as long as they have practiced abstinence for a full year. Nevertheless, its impact in the MSM group will surely be felt by both the LGBT community and the blood industry.
BLOOD BANK’S ADVANTAGE
Yes, this news is a good one for gay men, but it will be most beneficial to hundreds of blood donation centers across the US.
Blood shortages are not an uncommon thing in blood donation centers, and when this proposed policy is finally implemented, it is guaranteed that the number of blood donations will double up, resulting to an improvement in the blood supply all over the US.
Because of the expected increase in blood supply because of potential homosexual donors, the FDA will make sure that the blood coming from them will fit the health standards. This is why they will implement a blood surveillance system that aims to ensure the overall safety of the expected blood supply, as well as monitor the effect of the change in policy once it is implemented.
WAITING FOR THE CHANGE
There is no doubt that the change homosexuals have been dreaming of for the past three decades is just around the corner. Once the ban on gay men donating blood has been implemented, there will surely be an obvious change in both communities: the blood donation community and the gay community.
When that time comes, the term “gay” will not just be used to represent other men’s sexual orientation, but also for the feeling of euphoria that they will experience once they donate blood.