From the Daily: The battle for donor equality

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published October 22, 2013

As Michigan’s annual Blood Battle blood drive against the Ohio State University approaches, Blood Drives United, a student-run organization, is starting a petition to overturn the ban on gay men donating blood. Currently, any male who says they've had sexual contact with another male is permanently banned from donating blood. This question harms both agencies trying to maximize blood donations and villainizes gay men. As a prejudicial ban long overdue for an appeal, the suggested alteration of gays donating blood should be implemented and the movement supported.

The petition, organized through We The People, the White House’s petitioning platform, supports replacing the current survey question with one that will continue to prevent the spread of HIV, the justification used for barring gay men from donating. The Food and Drug Administration currently prohibits gays from contributing because they are “at increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B and certain other infections that can be transmitted by transfusion.” The proposed new question, which asks if anyone has had unprotected sexual contact with a new partner in the past 12 weeks, would still allow an accurate screening process for these types of diseases. However, instead of targeting gay men and their sexual histories since 1977 — as the policy reads now — this new question significantly reduces the risk of anyone of any sexual orientation from donating potentially contaminated blood.

From a scientific standpoint, the risk of gay men donating HIV-infected blood is an outdated stigma. Even with the gay population having a higher HIV percentage rate than other sexual orientations, new technology has minimized the risk of transmitting the disease. Every donated sample gets screened for HIV, and the odds of a false negative are one in two million. Therefore, there’s no scientific purpose for gay men not to donate, which is agreed upon by numerous medical establishments, including the American Medical Association. “The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science," William Kobler, American Medical Association board member, said in a statement in July.

The ban on gays donating blood has been prejudicial and technologically illogical for longer than necessary, and it’s time for a change. Numerous pieces of legislation have tried to overturn the ban since 1997, and considering hospitals continuously have a low blood supply, the time has come to allow gay men to donate.

The proposed question addresses the FDA’s concerns while also including a group of donors that should have been eligible long ago. With the petition only needing 100,000 signatures for the Executive Branch to view the proposal, hopefully this could be an important step in the battle to end the stigma and be a step toward social justice.