Gay Males Banned from Donating Blood in United States

blood donorJanuary is celebrated in the United States of America as its National Blood Donor Month.  This is the time when the American Red Cross campaigns nationwide and appeals for people to donate blood to save lives.  However, as it turns out, not everyone is allowed to donate their own blood, even people who are deemed healthy.

Thousands of gay men are being denied to donate their blood to the American Red Cross.  This has caused embarrassment and frustration to those who would attempt to donate blood, only to realize that their blood is not wanted, as well as to the administration of different American Red Cross regions because their need for blood far exceeds what they are able to collect.  This forces the American Red Cross to import additional units of blood to meet the demand.

"We get calls from gay men all the time who are angry when they find out they’re not allowed to donate," said Chris Englerth, marketing manager of the American Red Cross in the Penn-Jersey region.  "We tell them that we think it’s wrong, too.  But we don’t make the rules."

The ban on gay men donating their blood came from a ruling created by the Food and Drug Administration, wherein they established criteria on who may donate blood and who must defer donating.  This list of prohibited donors includes those "who have AIDS or have ever had a positive HIV test, or if you have done something that puts you at risk for becoming infected with HIV."  The people who are considered at risk of getting infected include "any male who has had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977."

The ban was instituted during the height of the AIDS crisis in 1983, when little was known about the disease.  In 2006, a coalition consisting of the American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers, and the American Association of Blood Banks implored the FDA to accept their petition to drop the ban.  They pointed out that blood-screening tests had become so sensitive and precise, banning gay men to donate their blood has become unnecessary. 

The coalition recommended that gay men who had high-risk sexual activity be banned from donating blood, which they say would more than cover the window period needed to detect whether the person is infected with HIV.  However, the FDA stands firm on their permanent ban.

"We think the year-long ban is more than reasonable," said Dr. Steven Kleinman, senior medical advisor of American Association of Blood Banks.  "We find (the FDA’s) policy discriminatory, scientifically marginal, and unfair."

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