Among many other charitable ventures, our company participates in an annual blood drive in which employees are encouraged to roll up their sleeves and donate a pint. Well, except me.
“What do you mean the Red Cross won’t accept blood from gay guys?” my co-worker said incredulously the first time I told her.
It’s not just the Red Cross; it and other blood organizations must follow FDA blood regulations, which since 1980 have banned “MSM” — men who’ve had sex with men, even once, anytime since 1977 — from giving blood. (The Federal Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability upheld the regulations in 2010 but called them “suboptimal.”) Legally, even if I were a match, I couldn’t give blood to my own relatives.
Proportionately speaking, gay men are at a higher risk of having HIV; the FDA website says that risk is 60 times higher than the general population, although the number of actual HIV cases reported in 2009 reveals the ratio to be somewhere between 2-to-1 and 3-to-1.
The FDA says that “today’s highly sensitive tests fail to detect less than one in a million HIV infected donors” — but with 20 million transfusions of blood products each year, that means up to 20 people a year already could contract HIV from a transfusion, and the feds think the risk of MSM blood outweighs any possible benefit. And with the risk of lawsuits — “I went in for a knee implant and came out with HIV!” — care providers might consider it the cautiously prudent choice.
Technically, we’re not banned; we “self-defer” by identifying a characteristic that place us “at potentially higher risk of carrying a transfusion transmissible disease.” (Which still means they won’t take the blood.) Other people in the “self-deferment” category: hookers, IV drug users and people who’ve had animal parts implanted. We could lie on the form and give blood; by being honest, we take ourselves out of contention.
It’s not just the U.S.; many European countries, including Denmark, Iceland and Portugal, have the same permanent deferment, while others set the deferment for one to five years after “exposure” (aka: sex). Only Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain don’t use it as a criteria for refusal. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)
I’m not going to get into statistics and the unlikelihood of someone who is community-conscious enough to want to give blood doing so even though he knows he’s got HIV, and that pint being the one in a million that doesn’t get caught in screening. I know the odds aren’t one in a million, though. Maybe one in a million-million. Any sicko who really wanted to screw with the blood supply could lie on the form, anyway.
Me, I’m not going to lie. But that means every time I’m asked to give blood, I’ll politely explain that it’s not that I won’t give blood, it’s that I can’t. And neither can 9.5 million other honest men.*
Even if we had just given a pint a year each, that’s a lot of blood they won’t have to screen. More than 1,175,000 gallons.
* An estimated 19 million people in the U.S. have had sex with a same-sex partner, according to the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, so let’s split that evenly men-to-women, and you get 9.5 million.
|WHAT SAM WORE: 1-17-12|
|The sweater: Cotton-cashmere V-neck from Uniqlo,
over a long-sleeved cotton T-shirt from Banana Republic.
|The pants: Modern-fit cargo pants from Uniqlo.|
|The shoes: Suede sneakers, on clearance at Banana Republic.|