Just before Christmas, the deputy director of the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) told reporters that the agency had decided to lift the lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with men. While the details still have to be worked out, as does a period of public comment this year, the FDA intends to institute a one-year ban it says fits in with current evidence.
And what evidence is that? According to the Associated Press:
Marks said some of the most compelling evidence for changing the policy comes from Australia, which put in place a one-year ban on donations over a decade ago. Recently published studies showed no change in the safety of the blood supply after making the switch.
Additionally, studies conducted by the U.S. government suggest gay and bisexual men are actually more likely to abide by donation guidelines under a 12-month prohibition period. All blood donors take a questionnaire about their health and sexual behavior, but some gay men reportedly answer inaccurately to donate blood.
All U.S. blood donations are screened for HIV but testing only detects the virus after it's been in the bloodstream about 10 days. Still, FDA officials said current research does not support reducing the donation ban below the one-year mark, though the agency may consider changing the timeframe in the future.
The American Red Cross estimates the risk of getting an HIV-positive blood donation is 1 in 1.5 million. About 15.7 million blood donations are collected in the U.S. each year.
While the above may seem compelling at first glance, the bigger picture makes it clear that the FDA is simply trying to appease the homosexual lobby and the emotions of men who have sex with men, rather than focusing on helping patients — and the risk to those patients far outweighs the potential benefit. This is especially true as the AP makes it clear that this change is just the first step to a total elimination of the ban.
First, as noted by the Associated Press, “men who have had sex with other men represent about 2 percent of the U.S. population, yet account for at least 62 percent of all new HIV infections in the U.S.”
In other words, this is justifiable discrimination. Homosexual activists say both the existing ban and anything short of a total lift of the ban stigmatizes gay and bisexual men, but in fact the existing ban does not care if someone is gay or bisexual. All it cares about is whether someone is part of the minority of the U.S. population that carries HIV/AIDS in the large majority of circumstances.
Second, the AP also says that a UCLA study shows that the U.S. blood supply could increase by two to four percent if two million additional men are eligible to donate — or between 310,000 and 620,000 additional blood donations.
However, as told to me by the senior medical adviser at the American Association of Blood Banks — a group that supports the FDA's proposed change — last year, there is no actual need for more blood donations:
[Dr. Steven Kleinman said] that “during seasonal shortages, blood will be directed to those patients who are in emergency need but patients undergoing elective surgery may need to have their procedures postponed.” However, he also e-mailed that a change to policy “would mean the number of gay men giving blood would not rise significantly, though some college students protesting the current policy may give blood more often.” This is because most gay men who engage in sexual relations do not abstain from sex for a year.
While Kleinman also said that “current testing is highly accurate,” and that “the only cases where testing doesn't catch the infection is when a donor is in the very earliest stages of HIV infection, when the amount of virus is so small the testing cannot detect it,” this begs the question of whether an increased amount of HIV-infected blood might get through the testing “in the very earliest stages of HIV infection.”
This is an especially important question in light of how often the pornography industry — which tests performers every two weeks for HIV/AIDS — has had to shut down production at least four times in the last two years. If they can miss it, what about the blood group testing?
Homosexual advocacy groups will argue that so-called “safe sex” will stop the spread of HIV/AIDS — the porn industry doesn't use condoms, for the most part — but a study released by the Centers for Disease Control last year found that nearly two-thirds of gay men who know they have HIV/AIDS are still engaging in unprotected sexual relationships.
Third, the idea that gay men who currently lie about their sexual history will suddenly become more honest if a one-year ban is in place defies logic. Related, as Kleinman told me, most men who have sex with men generally don't abstain from sex for a year.
Lastly, the image portrayed by homosexual advocacy groups is that they are being targeted for who they are — to paraphrase what one person at my alma mater said, rather heatedly, “I can't help how I was born!” However, the issue is the actions taken, not someone's expressed sexual attraction.
Likewise, men who have sex with men are hardly the only demographic that is not allowed to donate blood. IV drug users — another group that engages in risky behavior — are not allowed to donate.
In all truth, the American people should have the most empathy for potential donors who were born in Britain during certain years. Because of where and when they were born — something they cannot control — such people are not allowed to donate because of the risk of Mad Cow Disease.
Talk about discrimination! (Oh, wait — nobody does.)
The question of who should or should not be allowed to donate blood ought to focus entirely on the costs and benefits to patients. The emotions and desires of potential donors are irrelevant — whether the donor was born in Britain, sleeps with prostitutes, got a tattoo, uses IV drugs, or is a man having sex with other men.
One final thought here: HIV/AIDS is a horrible disease. Like any rational person, I hope that men who have sex with men don't get HIV/AIDS. But until the small minority of men who have sex with other men stop being the vast majority of HIV/AIDS carriers, the government has a responsibility to protect those who receive blood donations.