In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, the lines to donate much-needed blood stretched for blocks. The ability to donate blood, however, does not extend to sexually active gay men.
The Food and Drug Administration’s rules against gay men’s blood donations are outdated and discriminatory against men who have sex with men. The eligibility of potential donors should be considered on a case-by-case basis, rather than by excluding an entire group of people at the outset.
Men who have ever had sex with men used to be barred for life from donating blood. In 2011, the FDA changed its guidelines to allow gay men who had been abstinent for a year to donate. This may be a step in the right direction, but for sexually active gay men, it’s still basically a lifetime ban.
The ban on so-called “gay blood” is deeply rooted in stigma dating to the AIDS crisis, when HIV spread through infected people unknowingly donating blood. But current knowledge and modern technology make this rule antiquated. HIV can be detected as early as a month after infection, so it’s unrealistic to expect gay men to be abstinent for a year, when they can know within a month if they’re infected.
Heterosexual men who’ve had multiple opposite sex partners, regardless of whether they’ve used a condom, can donate blood. However, gay men in committed, monogamous relationships cannot donate blood. Gay men who always use protection and are on pre-exposure prophylaxis (commonly known as PrEP), a medication that drastically reduces the chances of HIV infection, cannot donate blood.
Allowing gay men to donate blood could add as many as 615,000 pints a year, a potential increase numbering 2 to 4 percent of the national supply, and could save nearly 2 million people, according to research from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Anyone could get HIV or AIDS today. It’s not limited to gay men. The health history screening that asks people about their sexual activity fails in this regard, as heterosexual people made up 23 percent of 2014 HIV diagnoses in the United States. If thousands of heterosexual people are diagnosed with HIV every year, then by the FDA’s cautious logic, heterosexual people should also have to abide by the one-year rule.
The FDA needs to reconsider its blatantly discriminatory rules and allow more gay men to donate blood. Men who are on PrEP and always have protected sex should be able to give blood. Gay men in long-term monogamous relationships should be able to give blood. Gay men who bring in recent negative results for HIV/AIDS blood screenings should be able to donate. These are examples of case-by-case considerations that the FDA needs to take into account. Donated blood is already screened for several infectious diseases, including HIV, so there is already a safety net to screen through blood donations from gay men.
We have the tools and knowledge needed to allow gay men to donate. It’s time to use them. This step toward equality will save lives.
Rose is an English sophomore from The Woodlands. Follow him on Twiiter @jeffroses.