Blood donation and homosexuality

I read a column called Al’s Morning Meeting every day, even though I’m not in news anymore.  It’s interesting to read, kind of a “news before it happens” sort of thing.  Except it is happening.

Today there was an item that pointed to this article at MSNBC, about how old prejudices and fears about homosexuality could be constricting the nation’s blood supply.

I have donated about a half-gallon of blood since college – which isn’t much, but I do try.  Citibank had a great program with the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center where the “blood buses” would come out to our site so that we could donate on work time.  I did take advantage of that a couple of times.  Sometimes I tried to donate, and I couldn’t because my iron was too low, but I have managed to donate a total of four times.

When you give blood, they ask you a long series of questions to make sure that you are a good candidate… they include potential risk factors such as travel to another country, feeling sick, having had insulin injections made from bovine material (to weed out mad-cow disease, I think)… but you are also deferred if you are a man who has had sex with another man, even once, since 1977.  The FDA states that they don’t allow gay men (or bisexual men, or men who experimented a little) from donating because there is a one in a million chance that they will fail to detect HIV in a blood donation.  The FDA also says that there are over 20 million donations a year.

20 million donations, for a country of 300 million people.

I can see where the FDA is coming from; they are trying to mitigate the risk for everyone by disallowing this segment of the population to participate in blood donation.  As both the MSNBC article and the FDA site point out, there is a “window period” during which it is more difficult to detect HIV in a blood sample.  But wouldn’t it be more realistic to delay blood donation by a month, well after this “window period”?  Banning homosexual men from blood donation for life is probably causing a bit of a hit to the blood donation rates.  Statistically, it might not even be a huge chunk, but who knows?  Maybe gay men would give at a higher-than-normal rate than the rest of us.

Regardless, there is always a need for donation.  I need to go back and do my duty as well, especially since my office is about two blocks from the blood bank.  And it’s one of the cheapest donations you’ll ever make… you won’t spend any money out of your pocket!  I’ll probably never know who receives my donations but I’m just glad that I am able to give.  It’s one of those rights (and duties!) that a lot of us probably take for granted, because it means we are healthy.

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