According to a meeting that occurred with the Blood Products Advisory Committee of the Food and Drug Administration on December 2nd, blood donation is "not considered to be a civil right". This was one of several infuriating comments expressing hesitations to a change in the policy. Although recent conversations have been shaped around changing the policy to a one year deferral period, the hesitations toward moving forward with a policy change are still incredibly discriminatory. Even a one year deferral period implies that simply being gay or bisexual is a risk, A study at the University of California, Los Angeles determined that this recent change could allow over 317,000 more blood donations each year, but a removal of this policy could allow that number to double. Considering that each blood donation can save three lives, a removal of the policy could save over 2,000,000 lives each year.
Despite the excitement surrounding the only progress regarding a change in this policy since 1982 when it was first implemented, many factors are being overlooked. Individuals would still be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation, and those who identify as MSM are being forced to remain abstinent for twelve months if they wish to donate blood. A year long deferral period would place the MSM community along the same lines of other behaviorally based deferral periods related to contracting HIV, such as intravenous drug usage or receiving payment for sex. However, with new nucleic acid scientific testing, HIV can be detected within three days of contracting the virus, and every blood donation is already tested for HIV. Therefore, even a one year deferral period is unwarranted, and the concern should be refocused away from sexual orientation.
A successful and appropriate policy change would be to ask all potential donors about potentially unsafe sexual behaviors, such as having new sexual partners or unprotected sex. It is entirely possible that people who are currently eligible to donate by the FDA's standards are at a much greater risk of contracting HIV than those who identify as MSM, which is why an overhaul of the entire blood donation health history process is necessary. This would create a blood supply that is even safer than it is now, while simultaneously removing sexual orientation from the questioning process.
It is imperative to consider how this policy is still encouraging discrimination in the U.S. Several countries do not factor sexual orientation into their blood donation processes, including Chile, Spain, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Russia, and South Africa. It is time that the U.S. learns from other countries to see how ending this inequality could also save more lives.
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