Wednesday, May 26, 2010

In the category of "I didn't realize we still did this"

In case you had forgotten, or were never aware, the FDA still enforces a ban on gay men donating blood in this country.  It's an HIV thing.  The rule was implemented in 1983, back when we didn't know much about HIV/AIDS except that it was really deadly, really painful, and most prevalent in gay men.  We also didn't know much about testing for it or how to prevent passing the virus on.  We also knew the horror stories of hemophiliacs contracting the virus through the blood transfusions they regularly relied on.  So 26 years ago, dealing with an emerging medical mystery that scared the living daylights out of most people, this rule didn't seem so outrageous back then.

But it's 2010.  We know a whole heck of a lot more about HIV than we did then.  We know it's not just a gay disease.  We know much more about viral loads and the likelihood of transmission through various activities.  Our testing capability has advanced tremendously.  So it seems like it's past time to reconsider the ban, which is why 18 senators asked the FDA to change the policy.  In June, then, the Federal Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability will hold public meetings on the topic.  Now seems to be the time for re-thinking archaic treatment of gays.

This really is a ban that is both over-inclusive and under-inclusive.  The ban makes no exception for monogamous gay men who have been tested for diseases.  But the ban doesn't include African-American woman, who are at higher risk for HIV infection than most other demographic groups.  (Of course no one would propose such a ban because it's so offensive on its face.)  Blood donors already have to affirm they have not engaged in a variety of high risk behaviors for the past year, like no sex with a prostitute, no tattoos, and no needle use.  Given that blood donors are already asked so many intrusive questions, it seems that a categorical ban on one demographic misses the mark at providing our blood banks with the largest quantity of safe blood they can get.  And if we just used questions to rule out individual gay blood donors who have engaged in high-risk behavior, as we do with every other demographic of blood donor besides gay men, we'll stop treating gay men like they're just one big bunch of dirty, diseased whores.  Seems like a win-win to me.

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