Op-ed: Donor discrimination

Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - 6:49pm

In the wake of the tragedy that occurred at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando over the weekend, many of the 53 injured are in need of blood from local hospitals, whether this be for a loss of blood during the shooting or to complete lifesaving surgeries. With the extent of injuries requiring blood from donations, local hospitals called out for volunteers to donate blood. However, not everyone who wants to help save those lives is allowed to do so.

As a volunteer for the American Red Cross and a frequent blood donor, I am not unaccustomed to the policies of the Red Cross during blood donation. There are many restrictions. Donors cannot have been to areas where Malaria has been found in the last 12 months. Donors cannot have gotten a new tattoo in the last 12 months. Donors cannot have had sex for money since 1977. Donors cannot be male and have had sex with another male in the last 12 months, among many other eligibility requirements. This last requirement greatly limits the potential for people to be helped in the wake of a tragedy when the community that the victims belong to are barred from aiding in the process of saving lives.

In December 2015, the FDA revised the blood donation eligibility requirement from not allowing males who have had sexual contact with another male since 1977 to donate within the last year. The FDA guideline for blood donation now requires that individuals, “Defer for 12 months from the most recent contact a man who has had sex with another man during the past 12 months. Defer for 12 months from the most recent contact a female who has had sex during the past 12 months with a man who has had sex with another man in the past 12 months.” Males who chose to have sex with other males should not automatically be assumed to have been in contact with HIV. This may have been a major concern when HIV was first encountered, but it is not a proper indicator of HIV status and should not be included in modern policies.

So many people are affected by a shortage in blood nationwide. We should be actively looking for ways to increase the supply we have, and that should involve making a more inclusive donation requirement procedure. The type of sex a person choses to have should not dictate whether a person is eligible to save three lives, especially when the need is urgent, such as when local hospitals and donation centers are calling out for residents to participate after a tragedy. Everyone who has sex is susceptible to contracting HIV, but not all people who have sex are banned from donating blood. All blood is screened before being given to another individual, making the current regulations unnecessary and discriminatory.

While the Red Cross suggests those who are unable to make a donation of blood instead make a monetary donation, discriminatory policies cannot and should not be tolerated. Such policies only encourage homophobia in a society that needs to change in the wake of a national event victimizing a targeted and stereotyped community.

Caitlin Heenan is a Summer Senior Editorial Page Editor.