In his column, Matthew Green dangerously imposes politics on medical science (There should be blood, 11/12/2009).
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration explains why gay men are excluded from donating blood on its website: “Men who have sex with men and would be likely to donate have a HIV prevalence that is at present over 15 fold higher than the general population.”
I wish this was an archaic issue, but it isn’t. It’s actually getting worse. As of 2006, gay men accounted for 48.1 percent of all HIV cases in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Approximately 56,300 people were newly infected with HIV in 2006 (the most recent year that data are available). Over half (53 percent) of these new infections occurred in gay and bisexual men.”
The FDA’s policy to exclude gay men from donating blood is the result of a calculated decision that keeps nearly 50 percent of all HIV cases out of the blood supply. It has been maintained through liberal and conservative administrations alike.
Furthermore, Green was misleading when he stated that more advanced tests practically guarantee that HIV infected blood would be screened out. Most of it is. But all tests are guaranteed to provide a false-negative result some of the time. Going against the science means that a very few unfortunate people will contract this fatal disease who otherwise might not have. That is not medically ethical treatment. Blood shortages are not so critical to warrant a change in the policy.
Politically, I actually agree with Green. I would gladly vote to legalize gay marriage. But I will not needlessly reduce the safety of a routine medical procedure for the sake of politics. The point of donating is that you make a sacrifice for the benefit of the patient. You do not ask patients to sacrifice their safety so that the donor feels vindicated.