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Anachronism and Blood

By: Ryan Hildebrand - Jul 21, 2013, 7:26 pm

There is a shortage of blood donors in North America. It is perpetual in nature, and there is always need, for all blood types. It only stands to reason that blood centers would want as many eligible donors as possible for such a vital product. So, why are homosexual men still excluded from donating? Because government agencies in Canada and the United States disallow it.

To be fair, Canada has recently amended their policies, but they are still highly restrictive, so as to make such a ban practical, if not literal (no male-male sexual relations in the past 5 years). In the United States, however, the ban is still for a lifetime. The reason is simple: gay men are classified by government agencies in Canada and the United States as “high risk” for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection and transmission.

While this ban made sense in light of what little was known about HIV when the ban was first enacted (1983), modern testing and an updated screening questionnaire would serve to allow low-risk homosexual males (such as the long-term monogamous) to donate. Simply put, the government, that paragon of inefficiency, lags behind innovation in science and methodology.

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(New FDA-Approved OraQuick HIV home test works in minutes. Courtesy John Gress/Reuters)

As one can imagine, homosexual men are frustrated with this situation. Even gay men who are actively-practicing physicians cannot donate. There is inconsistency in the screening process as well; men who have never had sex (of any type) with another man but are sexually promiscuous pass through the screening process to donate. This flies in the face of reason. Of course, this policy also does not take into account those who lie out of frustration about their sexual activity to donate.

Blood banks are in no position to needlessly discriminate against certain individuals, but the federal agencies of the United States and Canada set up the framework for blood donation, so the blood banks’ hands are tied. There is some hope, however, as noted in the recent changes in Canada, and there is murmuring of a similar change in the United States. These are steps in the right direction towards a more rational, up-to-date, science-based screening procedure for blood donation. After all, artificial blood is not up to par just yet.

Ryan Hildebrand Ryan Hildebrand

Dr. Ryan Hildebrand is a college instructor in New Orleans, Louisiana, and co-host of The Neo and Wim Show. You can follow his personal blog, NOLA City Blues, and his Twitter @NOLACityBlues. Read more of his featured PanAm Post column, "Self-Ownership."