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Friday, September 15, 2006

Conflicting Principles: It's NOT the Cookies

This is why I like blogging: I never know where it will take me. I write some heartfelt piece and get no response. Then I find some junk e-mail, post it, and get a half dozen responses.

Similarly, I wrote my 9/11 piece and expected that SOMEONE would complain about my plan to remove bin Laden from the FBI 10 Most Wanted list; no response. The point that became most a point of conversation was about donating blood.

When GayProf noted that, correctly, that gay men cannot donate, (well, only the ones who've been sexually active since 1977 can't), it was an irritating surprise to some readers. It was a surprise to my wife, when I mentioned it to her. If you are a man who has donated blood regularly since 1985, when the prohibition took hold, and the vast majority of the 116 pints I've donated have been since then, you'd be quite familiar with the ever-changing donor deferral questions, which include, "Have you had sex even once with a man since 1977?", an affirmative answer to which means permanent deferral.

But, why?

Should gay men be allowed to donate blood? And, Is the ban on using gay men's blood homophobic? After reading lots of material, I believe the answer is yes.

Look at any Red Cross literature about donating, and you'll find that only about 5% of the eligible population donates regularly. Some people are too busy, too queasy, too ill, or weigh under 110 pounds. Others don't because of various restrictions involved with living overseas for extended periods; these include Sub-Saharan Africa (concern about AIDS), and Europe, especially Great Britain (mad cow). An avowed vegetarian who has spent five years in Europe since 1980 is permanently banned, which I think is just silly. So, the need is great, but some people, including gay men, aren't allowed, even when they want to, even when they may have a rare blood type that could save a life.

I had thought the ban on using the blood of gay men was just based on a consensus of the scientific community. I was wrong. (It happens twice a year; this was the other time.) When the FDA met in September 2000 to decide whether to continue a ban on gay men donating blood that it imposed in 1985, the vote was 7 to 6, with 5 absent. I was struck by this article, which includes: "Dr. F. Blaine Hollinger, Chair of the FDA Blood Products Advisory Committee said, however: "Personally, I'm very open to a change. It's discriminatory. We have to see all the data first. If it can be done without changing the safety of the blood supply, it ought to be done."

More recently, several newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times on June 15, 2006 have editorialized in favor of letting gay men donate blood.

So what to do? Sign an online petition? I'm not much on the efficacy of online petitions. There are some examples, including this one suggesting that gay men just lie about their sexual orientation, though not about their HIV/AIDS status. I'm not hot on lying, though I truly understand the mindset.

Maybe somehow put pressure on the FDA? Even if we could, and "even if FDA decided to modify its policy, the [American Red Cross] can always undercut it by maintaining its own, stricter policy."

If gay men were allowed to donate, one of the unfortunate side effects, I'm afraid, would be the increase in autologous blood transfusions. Attitudes change slowly.

So, what to do? Not donating doesn't seem to be the right thing, as it does save lives. Besides which, I donate, at least in part, for a purely selfish reason: I have been long convinced that donating blood is a healthy habit for me. Why do women outlive men? Is it because they menstruate? Why is there such a spike in cardio-vascular incidents in post-menopausal women? I'm convinced that donating blood will keep me alive longer, so I'm disinclined to give it up.

But how DO I address something that I've become convinced is an inequity? (I mean, besides blogging about it?)

1 comment:

Scott said...

I was surprised to hear about this and have been thinking about it. I can understand the powers-that-be banning gay men at first when AIDS was first discovered. Given the ratio of gay men that had it compared to the rest of society. Plus researchers didn't know enough about the disease. HOWEVER, it is widely known about now and it has been proven that ANYONE can contract AIDS or other diseases that we obviously don't want taintly the blood supply. But don't they have a screening process in place? So this leaves me agreeing with you Roger that not letting gay men donate blood is homophobic. But like you said attitudes need to change nation wide. And I am at a loss to know what to do either.