I am a regular blood donor. So are many of my friends.
I was taken from the registry for several years in the 1990s because I developed Graves disease, an immune function disorder that affects the thyroid. No one knows the cause yet, but when both President and Mrs. Bush came down with it very close in time to one another, this previously barely understood condition suddenly got a lot of funding and research. My educational literature was a diagram sketched out on my exam room paper and a whole bunch of stuff was never explained to me. When others I know developed it a few years later, they were handed flyers and good information.
I kept checking back, however, and by 2002 the ban on those who’d been treated in the past for Graves disease was lifted. I started donating again.
Now they are considering lifting the ban for gay men . It has long been the policy that if a man had sex with another man, even once, he was banned from donating for life. That means every male child that Jerry Sandusky raped, every altar boy who was every the victim of a pedophile priest, and every bisexual or gay man who truly loved someone was banned from donating blood…assuming they answer the questions truthfully.
Female rape victims aren’t banned. Women who sleep around aren’t banned. Gay men in a long-term monogamous relationship, however, are not allowed to help others in this way, no matter how healthy they are.
The screening questions at my local Blood and Tissue Center must be more stringent than the Red Cross screening questions. I make this assumption from reading the article, because they talk about high risk behaviors in women not being screened. Mine asks about any unprotected sex in the last year, needle sticks, use of drugs not prescribed by a physician, and other health-related questions. But it also asks if I’ve had sex in the last year with a man who ever had sex with a man.
If I would be cleared to donate after a year, why isn’t a man? There are a lot of single gay men out there (just like there are straight ones). At the very least, why couldn’t these people donate until they start dating again? (Some European countries have started allowing donation for gay men after they’ve been single 6 months, according to the article.)
But I think even that is ridiculous. They should take out the gender-specific questions and just fall back on the sensible ones. Have you had unprotected sex in the last year? (It’s already defined in the literature of my center as any penetration, including oral.) Have you had sex in the last year with someone who had unprotected sex?
The original ban on gay donation was put in place before transport mechanisms for AIDS were known and before there were reliable tests for HIV. Both of these have been long established at this point. We’re screening thousands of healthy donors from a system that never has enough, especially of the rare blood types.
Run their blood through extra tests if you must, but let’s get these donors into the system. It would mean a minimum of tens of thousands of more units of blood available for those in need.