Although the season of giving recently ceased, the need for donations of one of the most necessary resources remains constant. Blood circulates unceasingly through our veins, providing our bodies with components essential for survival. Yet dependence upon this combination of cells is overlooked until dire circumstances lead to a deficiency. Due to a tremendous ability to replenish it, we can donate blood to individuals in drastic need. The demand, however, still outweighs the supply. Therefore, blood collection agencies should unquestionably maximize the entire population of eligible donors. Doing so requires banishing unfair deferral practices. Though the Food and Drug Administration recently announced plans for the upheaval of a ban on donations from homosexual and bisexual men, its revised policy remains far from inclusive.

According to the American Red Cross, less than 10 percent of eligible donors give blood, but roughly 38 percent of the United States population is currently deemed eligible. I, for numerous years, have constituted a part of this tiny percentage of donors. I’ve both worked and participated in blood drives, and I still donate annually. Unlike some of my more squeamish counterparts, I’m not bothered by needles or the sight of blood.

I’ve also been lucky — considering my astoundingly low iron levels — to have consistently met all of the requirements. Friends, family and classmates were deferred from donating. Some didn’t meet the minimum weight requirement. Some possessed low iron levels, while others were unable to donate due to recently traveling abroad or getting a tattoo. However, falling under the status of “men who have had sex with men” (MSM) was, by far, the most discriminatory reason why those close to me were deferred. Even today, friends of mine — some who are far healthier than me and are probably capable of making double red cell donations — would be unjustly deferred on the basis of sexuality.

Previously, a ban upheld by the FDA — initiated in 1983 — prohibited “men who have had sex with other men, at any time since 1977” from donating blood. On Dec. 23, the agency proposed to remove the policy and instead institute a 12-month deferral period. Gay and bisexual men, under the revised program, could now donate blood, but there’s a stipulation. In order to remain eligible donors, the men must not have engaged in sexual activity with another man for a year.

Eliminating the heavily discriminatory and archaic prohibition on donations from the gay and bisexual community undoubtedly demonstrates an attempt at embracing equality and good intentions to amend issues. However, good intentions don’t suffice. The new deferral period is meant to increase the pool of eligible donors. By finally granting bisexual and gay men the ability to donate, the prospective expansion is expected — according to a study by the University of California, Los Angeles — to raise the current blood supply by two to four percent.

For the University and other institutions holding extensive annual blood drives — such as the Blood Battle — the inclusion of this student demographic would lead to more successful efforts and more patients receiving crucial aid. However, the new policy stigmatizes individuals in a manner similar to the previous restriction. Men from the gay and bisexual communities are eligible to donate only if they don’t possess active sex lives. Even if the student or individual is in a monogamous, responsible relationship, they still will be denied. No identical policy requires heterosexual individuals to remain celibate for a year in order to donate. Rather, the policy suggests gay and bisexual individuals must alter an aspect of their relationships that remains unquestioned for heterosexuals. According to a statement by FDA, the rationale for the new restriction is that “compelling scientific evidence is not available at this time to support a change to a deferral period less than one year while still ensuring the safety of the blood supply.”

Even if testing methods for HIV were inefficient in earlier decades, technology is far more advanced at discovering infections within the blood — discerning issues within a matter of nine days. To further ensure no problems arise, each sample of blood is examined — regardless of the donor’s gender. The same measures utilized to ensure the safety of the blood donated by sexually active heterosexual individuals can be used for gay and bisexual donors.

Many countries utilize a similar deferral, but others collect blood on a case-by-case basis. If thoroughness in guaranteeing safety is the concern supporting this method of collection, then institute the deferral period on a very limited basis as definitive research is conducted to determine the magnitude of any potential risks and to promptly revise the policy to be more realistic — by focusing upon individual donations instead of stereotyping. Although it demonstrates some progress, the deferral is unnecessarily discriminatory. Blood drives are meant to aggregate life-saving resources. Donation regulations shouldn’t unfairly require one’s ability to do a good deed to be dictated by their sexuality.

Melissa Scholke can be reached at melikaye@umich.edu.

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