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The Ban on Blood Donation
May 26, 2010 11:35 AM   Subscribe

Are the Rules That Determine Who Can Donate Blood Discriminatory? Canadian AIDS researchers Dr. Mark Wainberg and Dr. Norbert Gilmore say that while the ban on blood donation from men who have sex with other men may have been ethically and scientifically justified in the 1980's, it no longer makes sense. (CMAJ.) Even though the US FDA reaffirmed their long-standing ban in 2007, they plan to revisit the policy in June.

Background
Currently gay and other men who have sex with men in Canada and the US, as well as the UK and a number of other countries, are permanently banned from giving blood.

The prohibition in North America was introduced in 1983. Thousands of individuals were infected with HIV after receiving blood products infected with the virus before effective screening was developed.
Also:
Before giving blood, all men are asked if they have had sex, even once, with another man since 1977. Those who say they have are permanently banned from donating. The FDA said those men are at increased risk of infection by HIV that can be transmitted to others by blood transfusion.

In March 2006, the Red Cross, the international blood association AABB and America’s Blood Centers proposed replacing the lifetime ban with a one-year deferral following male-to-male sexual contact. New and improved tests, which can detect HIV-positive donors within just 10 to 21 days of infection, make the lifetime ban unnecessary, the blood groups told the FDA.
And:
In the CMAJ article, Wainberg and colleagues noted that several industrialized countries, including Argentina, Australia, Japan, and Sweden, have implemented a shorter one-year period of deferral.
More on the study from the Globe and Mail, National Post and Toronto Sun

From 2000: Should Gay Men be Allowed to Donate Blood?
posted by zarq (69 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Marky Mark is a doctor now?
posted by grubi at 11:37 AM on May 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


That would be Mark Wahlberg
posted by zarq at 11:38 AM on May 26, 2010


A ban on donated blood from gay men is by definition discriminatory.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:42 AM on May 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I know a girl who had been in a 2 year relationship with a guy who only disclosed that he'd been in a LT homosexual relationship during and after college at the end of their relationship (she broke up with him for not telling her sooner). I'm pretty sure she donated blood while she was in the relationship and before she found out.
posted by anniecat at 11:44 AM on May 26, 2010


A ban on donated blood from gay men is by definition discriminatory.

Usually, when people talk about discrimination, they mean "unfair discrimination". Obviously, discrimination is a good quality (--except when it's unfair.)
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:45 AM on May 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


But if we let gay men donate blood then anti-scientific, homophobic bigots might be unable to something something freedom of religion.
posted by DU at 11:46 AM on May 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well I guess the implied question is "unnecessarily discriminatory". They ban people who go to certain countries, people who ate to much british beef in the 90's, etc. Last time I gave blood they asked a bunch of questions that de-facto banned people from India. Is the blood of men who have sex with men any more likely to have a disease than the blood of all these other people?

Also, I think one of the issue is the extent of the ban. Having sex with a man is a permanent ban, many other bans are not. Although I think the did-you-live-in-Britain-when-all-those-cows-went-crazy ban may similarly be a lifetime ban.

I'm no blood donation expert, I just get asked a lot of questions each time I donate.
posted by GuyZero at 11:48 AM on May 26, 2010


Nice post, thanks.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:49 AM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


BP, you're very welcome.
posted by zarq at 11:53 AM on May 26, 2010


Another globe article: An estimated 5.4 per cent of gay men are infected with HIV-AIDS, compared to 0.08 per cent of heterosexuals – a 67-fold difference.

I'm very curious about this statistic. I obviously take it on faith that these researchers have appropriate means of determining these numbers, but at the same time I have trouble believing it's true. 5.4% of all MSM having HIV/AIDS just seems remarkably high to me.
posted by Adam_S at 11:57 AM on May 26, 2010


I'm actually writing a moot [mock trial] decision on Kyle Freeman's Charter challenge right now!

It's interesting - although I certainly think the ban should be lifted, there is at least one interesting point:

Discrimination. Gay people [and lesbian people, and most likely any group on the GLBTQ spectrum] are an "analogous group", which is a necessary requirement of a law being discriminatory (for example, a case for discrimination based on a law making distinctions in the tax code for small business owners wouldn't work, because small business owners aren't a class that gets protection).
However, the questionnaire bans blood donations from men who have had sex with men, I think since 1977. That's not the same as gay men - because I think we'd all agree that being gay is more than having sex with men.

Also, just last year Canada started accepting gay men's blood marrow.

Personally, I think Freeman will win this his case, or they'll change the policy and drop the charges. And thank god for that. Everywhere I hear that there's a need for blood, please donate - kind of hypocritical when they have the ability to add a large number of people to the rolls.
posted by Lemurrhea at 12:02 PM on May 26, 2010


On one hand, it's scientifically self-evident that blood from gay men is no more or less dangerous than any other blood. On the other hand, I can't even begin to imagine the number of USians who would refuse blood transfusions from "fags" if the ban were lifted.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 12:05 PM on May 26, 2010


I'm in a long-term, strictly monogamous relationship with my partner of many years. We both got tested before our relationship got physical, and we are both as sure as anyone can possibly be that we are 100% STD-free. (I was celibate for eight years before meeting him, and still got tested anyway.) As we are gay men, we are well aware of the risks of sex between men, which is why we are strictly monogamous and careful about sex with each other. It's not just about protecting ourselves, it's about protecting each other, too. Because of all of this, we are arguably safer about our sexual habits than many heterosexual couples. And yet, even so, we are both banned for life from donating blood, while at the other extreme, wildly promiscous heterosexuals practicing ridiculously unsafe sex and even intravenous drug users are welcome to donate with little or no probationary period required. I assume that at least to someone, this all actually makes pefect sense or it wouldn't be this way.
posted by xedrik at 12:06 PM on May 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


wildly promiscous heterosexuals practicing ridiculously unsafe sex and even intravenous drug users are welcome to donate with little or no probationary period required.

So, I'm working on memory here, but as a straight male I have been asked about IV drug usage and a number of questions about people I may have had sex with, although there are a bunch of situations that would be generally be considered unsafe that the questions didn't cover. But in Canada they certainly ask blood donors if they've ever paid for sex and I can only guess that if you say yes they tell you that you blood will probably be discarded and/or send you home.
posted by GuyZero at 12:11 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Generally speaking I would prefer a 1-year waiting period for multiple partners. If you've had sex with more than, say, 2 people in the past year, then you can't donate. More prohibitive than tattoos and such, but still some restrictions on those who are at-risk.

No differentiation on gender, of course.
posted by Lemurrhea at 12:14 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


But if we let gay men donate blood then anti-scientific, homophobic bigots might be unable to something something freedom of religion.

I've actually heard people argue that they "don't want gay blood in me".
I can't help but to think of the time Archie got a blood transfusion.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 12:14 PM on May 26, 2010


Wow, this is something I had no idea that Canada had banned. I vaguely recall being asked if I had eaten any British beef the last (and only) time I donated blood, but don't remember the sex with men question... But then, that one time was when I was in high school, like 15 years ago, so I guess it's understandable that my memory of the questionnaire would be a bit hazy.
posted by antifuse at 12:14 PM on May 26, 2010


On one hand, it's scientifically self-evident that blood from gay men is no more or less dangerous than any other blood. On the other hand, I can't even begin to imagine the number of USians who would refuse blood transfusions from "fags" if the ban were lifted.

I'm sorry to be callous, but this truly seems like a self-correcting problem. If medical assistance is available and Archie Bunker refuses it, then ultimately that's his choice, isn't it?
posted by zarq at 12:15 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


They ban people who go to certain countries, people who ate to much british beef in the 90's, etc.

More than that - they ban people who lived in the UK in the 80s from donating blood. I found that out the last time I tried to donate a few years back. There are some estimates that the prion could have an incubation period of more than two decades, but my impression is that the study those are based on is a bit suspect.
posted by el_lupino at 12:16 PM on May 26, 2010


The thing is-- even a year deferral isn't going to make much difference in terms of actual numbers, because it's a year from the last male to male sexual encounter. So even a monogamous low-risk guy like xedrik, for example, would still be deferred for a long time in practice.

Unless xedrik wants to stop having sex for a year just so he can give blood.
posted by sarahnade at 12:17 PM on May 26, 2010


But if we let gay men donate blood then anti-scientific, homophobic bigots

Right. Because that's clearly what drove the ban. No other concerns about health factors, nope. Just anti-scientific homophobic bigotry.

If the Red Cross and company believe that a one year ban plus some screening on the back end are as effective in keeping pathogens out of the blood supply, that's good enough for me.

But it's damn important to remember that donating blood isn't about you, any aspect of your identity, or the status or rights of whatever class you're a part of or sympathize with. It's about getting healthy blood to people who need it. If the people who make that their work think that overall, it's most effective to not take donations or time-limit them from people with particular sexual preferences, eating habits, family histories, travel patterns, whatever, this isn't the lunch counter or the voting booth or a job interview, it's a lifesaving operation, and how anyone feels about not being able to participate is pretty much irrelevant.
posted by namespan at 12:18 PM on May 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


If the Red Cross and company believe that a one year ban plus some screening on the back end are as effective in keeping pathogens out of the blood supply, that's good enough for me.

But the thing is that they have to test all the blood anyway. People can and will lie on the interview lie for a bunch of reasons. So, given that, is it worth losing all the possible gay donors to keep out something they're already screening for anyway?
posted by GuyZero at 12:22 PM on May 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


People can and will lie on the interview lie for a bunch of reasons. So, given that, is it worth losing all the possible gay donors to keep out something they're already screening for anyway?

Exactly. The blood all gets tested anyway, and while I partly agree with namespan that it's not about the donor, it's about getting good blood to people who need it, it's very frustrating to hear groups like the Red Cross constantly saying "We need more donors! Um, just... not you."
posted by xedrik at 12:27 PM on May 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


But the thing is that they have to test all the blood anyway. People can and will lie on the interview lie for a bunch of reasons. So, given that, is it worth losing all the possible gay donors to keep out something they're already screening for anyway?

When blood is needed, often it's needed quickly. After a crisis. Where friends and family are donating to a patient undergoing surgery.

It used to take 3-6 months for HIV to be detectible in the blood streams of those who were infected. Now, it takes 10-21 days. So a buffer of time would still be necessary to allow for HIV detection. A full year doesn't seem at all practical, though. And of course, one obviously does not have to be engaging in MSM to contact AIDS.
posted by zarq at 12:27 PM on May 26, 2010


We need better tests for HIV that give faster, more accurate results. Until that happens, we need a smarter, revised donation policy.
posted by zarq at 12:29 PM on May 26, 2010


I think namespan hit the nail on the head with this one.

I'm a gay man. But I'm also so needlephobic I can barely watch House or ER, so even if this is lifted, it won't affect my blood donation proclivity.
posted by hippybear at 12:31 PM on May 26, 2010


I can't give blood in Canada because I'm Scottish. Blood for transfusions in the UK comes from the US. Weird thing is, they're allowed to use my organs once I'm dead - wouldn't they be nice little prion-factories?
posted by scruss at 12:36 PM on May 26, 2010


Wasn't there an epic AskMe on this topic not too long ago?
posted by amro at 12:42 PM on May 26, 2010


Here it is.
posted by amro at 12:43 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here it is.

Ah, thanks.

I'd have preferred something like that had come up in the related links section, instead of the post about chemical castration.
posted by zarq at 12:46 PM on May 26, 2010


Black men in the US have eight times the HIV incidence of white men. If you're playing the odds, why stop at banning my faggot blood?
posted by Nelson at 12:52 PM on May 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yeah, caught mention of this on the CBC and instantly thought of the last conversation about this on the blue. Good framing of the update.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:57 PM on May 26, 2010


Although I think the did-you-live-in-Britain-when-all-those-cows-went-crazy ban may similarly be a lifetime ban.

Yeah, I'm banned for life from donating blood in the US because of this. My bone marrow is still a hot commodity, apparently, although this may be because I am one of the (sadly) few multiracial minorities in the database.

Banning safe-sex-practicing gay men from blood donation can really only be seen as homophobia when they enact no similar bans on heterosexual people engaged in unsafe sex. If someone tries to tell me that donated blood from a gay man in a committed safe-sex relationship is more dangerous than donated blood from anyone having unprotected sex with multiple partners, I will dismiss them as a fucking idiot and a homophobe. I SAID GOOD DAY SIR.
posted by elizardbits at 12:58 PM on May 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


The thinking may be (and I do not necessarily support it) that, with a non-zero number of false negatives in testing the blood supply, importation of a high-risk group would result in more infections. If that 67-fold number quoted above is correct (and if so, that's a doozy), then they're essentially hedging their bets by turning away a small group, instead of either improving testing (while holding costs the same) or, say, testing twice.

Interestingly, on one of the Red Cross websites, there's a lot of discussion about false positives, but not much on the other way around. Not a shock, after the whole Abbott thing with ELISA. What do they test with now? How cost-effective is it? I believe that they have tests for HIV-1 HIV-2 antibodies and then the antigen so they can see if you're very recently infected, but the names of the tests, their costs, and their false positive/false negative rates aren't popping up.

If the costs can be driven down or accuracy improved while maintaining costs, all you have left is the two-three week new infection window to worry about and the various fears ought to be laid to rest.

Or perhaps the costs and risks are already so low that we're essentially clinging to old, now irrelevant fears.

At the end of the day, though, I view blood donation not as a right someone is attempting to pull out of someone else's hands, but a medical service for someone who may or may not be bleeding out or running a few pints low. It's not really "about me," it's about an opportunity I may or may not have to be of use. Medically, I'm out, I am not of use. Rationally, I know that my blood could make someone rather ill for a while (someone who probably is not feeling all that hot in the first place) or make a few ill permanently. That's a little sad, and sometimes I feel randomly guilty about it, but it's not my call.
posted by adipocere at 12:59 PM on May 26, 2010


Here's the donor questionnaire.

They do actually ban heterosexuals who have sex with partners who'se sexual history they don't know, as well as IV drug users, people who have sex with IV drug users and other high risk behaviors.
posted by Grimgrin at 1:29 PM on May 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Being gay and living in Vancouver is a constant reminder of the extremely high rate of HIV infection here, and it doesn't surprise me that we are banned from giving blood. It's a fact of life that if you are sexually active here you are getting tested regularly - and under those circumstances, you should not be giving blood.

That said, there are just as many (or more) men that do not identify as gay who are engaging in equally (or more) risky behavior, who don't understand the consequences because they are not aware of them. And of course, seeing a sex worker or sharing intravenous drugs are even more dangerous activities. It seems equally or more practical, and less discriminatory, to screen for recent behavior. If I have sex with men but have not done so in a year, or only do so in a monogamous fashion, and am still testing negative, why can't I give blood? These protocols made sense in 1983 when HIV testing was nonexistent or unreliable, but now it is cheap and prevalent.

An estimated 5.4 per cent of gay men are infected with HIV-AIDS, compared to 0.08 per cent of heterosexuals

This is accounting known, confirmed infections - these are the people least likely to transmit HIV to anyone. The number we can only guess at are unconfirmed, untreated infections.
posted by mek at 1:37 PM on May 26, 2010


and even intravenous drug users

Careful, your bias is showing.
posted by docgonzo at 1:37 PM on May 26, 2010


adipocere: "If that 67-fold number quoted above is correct (and if so, that's a doozy), then they're essentially hedging their bets by turning away a small group, instead of either improving testing (while holding costs the same) or, say, testing twice."

Yes, this. And as far as allowing black people to donate despite their having a higher rate of HIV infection, I've seen numbers (some of which are in the above-cited AskMe thread) that indicate that
  1. nearly all newly-acquired HIV in the black American population derives from sexual exposure to men to have sex with men (MSM), meaning that those persons would be barred from donating under current rules, and
  2. that the higher rate among black people is not nearly as high as the rate among MSM; as someone said, 8-fold vs. 67-fold, and thus does not present the same raw risk of false negatives during blood testing.
One point that I don't usually see brought up is that in theory, this ban is not just about known risks like HIV that we currently have tests for. It is also about unknown future infectious diseases that are likely to be spread through risky sexual practices, exposure to those who engage in risky sexual practices, and exposure to blood or similar bodily fluids.

I am currently banned from donating, myself, and I realize how unfair the permanent ban ends up being to gay men who practice safe sex in monogamous relationships. I hope that there is empirical justification to lift the permanent ban on donations from MSM. But I am the kind of person who would also rather find my minority group permanently banned from donating than find it the major source of unintentional HIV transmissions via blood donation.
posted by hat at 1:46 PM on May 26, 2010


mek: Questions 17, 18, 21-23 and 29 on the screening questionnaire all cover the points you and others have raised about risky sexual behavior, sex workers and IV drug use. They get screened out as well.
posted by Grimgrin at 1:47 PM on May 26, 2010


I wonder if the Red Cross accepts faggot dollars in donations to finance blood drives.
posted by VikingSword at 2:01 PM on May 26, 2010


I wonder if the Red Cross accepts faggot dollars in donations to finance blood drives.

You *did* read the articles, yes? The Red Cross is not responsible for the ban. It's Federal law in the US, UK and Canada. The Red Cross must follow the medical policies of the countries in which they operate. So do hospitals. When I donated blood at NYU Medical Center and Columbia Presbyterian in NYC over the last few years, they follow the same rules, even though they are not part of the Red Cross.

In fact, if you read the articles (*and one of the quotes I put in this FPP!*,) you'd have noticed that a 2006 Red Cross request to have the policy changed sparked an FDA review in 2007, and their continuing efforts are behind the FDA review which will take place in June.
posted by zarq at 2:48 PM on May 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Being asked about having sex with a man is really in the middle of the pack in terms of how personally invasive the blood donation questions are. They want to know your movements and they ask you to admit to illegal behaviours. The discrimination against male homosexuals isn't cool but don't get all in a twist that they're doing it because they hate the gayz or something.
posted by GuyZero at 3:00 PM on May 26, 2010


I just gave blood today (in Canada). You go through the questionnaire every time - any question you answer "yes" to past the first one either requires a thorough explanation or a outright refusal to accept you. For example, I got tested in the early 90s for HIV - but I have to explain every time why I had that test, and that the result was negative.

I've joked with some of the workers at Blood Services that they should be setting up a dating service - anyone who is a regular blood donor is making quite a statement about their lifestyle (drug use, sexual habits). I've never agreed with the ban on gay donors - I figure if they can answer all the other questions regarding knowing the background of their partners, travel habits, etc., why should they be turned away?
posted by never used baby shoes at 3:03 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the donor questionnaire, why do they ask if your mother or grandmother came from Latin America?
posted by Forktine at 3:09 PM on May 26, 2010


Although I think the did-you-live-in-Britain-when-all-those-cows-went-crazy ban may similarly be a lifetime ban.

Nthing that this is the case. I lived in the UK for 2 1/2 years in the 80s and I'm under the lifetime ban too. The number of people under this ban surprises me sometimes, and a lot of it is people who would donate regularly if they could, or did donate regularly until they were forbidden to under this restriction.
posted by immlass at 3:12 PM on May 26, 2010


In the donor questionnaire, why do they ask if your mother or grandmother came from Latin America?

Surprisingly interesting: Chagas disease. Sounds like once infected, you are contagious for life, and it can be passed through blood transfusions or from a mother to her child.
posted by smackfu at 3:29 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is this where I can be really provincial and advertise that, March this year, the Portuguese Parliament has voted unanimously for lifting the ban on homosexuals giving blood stating that what matters are risky behaviors and not risk groups? Hooray!
posted by lucia__is__dada at 3:29 PM on May 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm one of those people who used to donate regularly till the UK-in-the-80s restriction. You know what's especially nutty? There's no exception for vegetarians.
posted by tangerine at 3:35 PM on May 26, 2010


That's because non-vegetarians lie to you all pretty regularly about the so-called "veggie burgers".
posted by GuyZero at 3:44 PM on May 26, 2010


The blood all gets tested anyway

Here's the problem with that argument. If you've determined that there's a much higher occurrence of a pathogen in some sub-population, then chances are, if you let the population as a whole skip any screening, you are now having a higher volume of contaminated blood in the system. If the testing is perfect, you will merely be wasting some additional amount of time/resources handling contaminated blood. If the testing is not perfect, then a larger volume of contaminated blood in makes comes out of the testing phase by sheer virtue of the fact that more goes through it.

it's very frustrating to hear groups like the Red Cross constantly saying "We need more donors! Um, just... not you."

That frustration is totally understandable... never been in that specific position myself, but I've felt it something I'd bet is a lot like it parallel situations, so I should probably say I don't really mean to invalidate the feelings themselves.

But at the same time, I don't think they can be allowed to hijack the main point: it's not really about anybody's feelings of frustration or validation, or, more generally, identity politics. It has to be about whether the epidemiology and statistics add up to a safe blood supply.
posted by namespan at 3:49 PM on May 26, 2010


Although I think the did-you-live-in-Britain-when-all-those-cows-went-crazy ban may similarly be a lifetime ban.

You don't even have to have lived there, just visited for more than 3 months cumulative between 1980 and 1996.
This despite there never having been a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy transmitted through the blood supply.

Regardless, when it comes to blood, I'd rather they take no chances even if it does mean that I'll not get a gallon pin[1] or a perfectly healthy gay man can't give blood.

[1] Although I did give blood several times before they instituted the ban. I apologize in advance to any to whom I gave Mad Cow disease.
posted by madajb at 4:24 PM on May 26, 2010


It has to be about whether the epidemiology and statistics add up to a safe blood supply

Which is why homophobic policy is being re-evaluated, thankfully.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:34 PM on May 26, 2010


nearly all newly-acquired HIV in the black American population derives from sexual exposure to men to have sex with men (MSM), meaning that those persons would be barred from donating under current rules

Are you aware of the origins of the term MSM? It arose out of a need to describe men who engaged in sex with other men but did not identify as gay, let alone participate in long-term relationships with men. The population in question here is usually referred to as being on the "down-low" -- they don't exactly go around telling their girlfriends or wives about their other activities. Since the black American women who are exposed to MSM don't know about it, they probably won't answer "yes" on that particular question when they go to donate blood, and will therefore be missed by the current rules.

The current lifetime ban for gay men (and MSM) is infuriatingly discriminatory and needs to be fixed, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Until then, the Red Cross can go to hell.
posted by spitefulcrow at 5:21 PM on May 26, 2010


I don't agree with the policy at all, and I think if it was based on statistics, like an above poster mentioned, they would ban African-American males and probably a few other categories of individuals that were statistically likely to have a disease.

But, I also think, initially, it was also a cost issue. The Red Cross takes donations and combines larges batches of the blood. So they don't just test each donation individually. So when they have to throw out contaminated blood, they are also throwing out lots of other good blood. And therefore, losing revenue.

Because in case you weren't aware, the Red Cross takes blood donations, and sells the blood to hospitals, with income of $2 billion a year from blood revenue.
posted by hazyspring at 5:26 PM on May 26, 2010


But the thing is that they have to test all the blood anyway.

Every time this comes up people blindly assert that the only possible explanation is homophobia and they declare that all of the blood is tested anyway (assuming that the test is absolutely foolproof and so on).

Everyone is assuming the issue is HIV as if a _general policy that reduces the potential for new epidemics to enter the blood supply before they are recognized and detectable_ is not in and of itself a good idea. IV drug users are excluded for the same reason.

But .. Let's not learn anything from what happened in the 80s, right?
posted by rr at 6:11 PM on May 26, 2010


How can a medically imposed ban against certain classes of blood donors--outdated or not--qualify in anyone's mind as discriminatory? No one--and I mean no one--has any sort of right or entitlement to donate blood. No such right exists. The indignant commenters speaking of "faggot" blood and "faggot" dollars and such have entirely missed the mark.

I lost a beloved hemophiliac uncle in 1988 because of a tainted batch of plasma from a local blood bank. He got word of his death sentence via form letter. His wife had administered the ultimately fatal infusion to him at home. Of course, losing him did NOT make me hate or fear homosexuals. Why would it? It was the disease (and lack of knowledge about it) that killed him--and for all I know, the tainted donor was hetero. But I'll be damned if I understand how anyone, of any status, could assert an entitlement to donate blood that's going to anonymously enter another person's body. That's just not how the logic of the donation system works.

Sounds to me like the current science dictates a revamp of the standards. But enough with the ridiculous discrimination talk. The ban was initially imposed for the best of all possible reasons--to save people's lives. To save people like my uncle from dying simply because he took an otherwise life-sustaining infusion, and to save people like my aunt from the life-crushing guilt of having unwittingly put poison into her own spouse's veins.
posted by azaner at 6:14 PM on May 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


spitefulcrow: "Since the black American women who are exposed to MSM don't know about it, they probably won't answer "yes" on that particular question when they go to donate blood, and will therefore be missed by the current rules."

Yes, and this is true for partners of many people who may be engaging in risky sexual practices or intravenous drug use. What is your point? The best the rules can do is define certain groups who seem to pose significantly increased risk beyond the benefit they accrue to the blood supply; ask for a truthful account of whether to the best of your knowledge you belong to one of those groups; and test samples as an additional layer of security. If the tests were perfect and if we could somehow test for diseases we don't yet know about, we would not need to exclude any groups.

spitefulcrow: "The current lifetime ban for gay men (and MSM) is infuriatingly discriminatory and needs to be fixed, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Until then, the Red Cross can go to hell."

As others have said, the FDA imposes these rules on the blood supply, not the Red Cross.
posted by hat at 6:19 PM on May 26, 2010


How can a medically imposed ban against certain classes of blood donors--outdated or not--qualify in anyone's mind as discriminatory?

Because that ban still exists, not because of actual, rational science, but because of impresssions about gay people that remain from the "gay cancer" of the 1980s. Maintaining 1980s policy in 2010 is discriminatory.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:44 PM on May 26, 2010


The policy is stupid when it extends to gay men in a long-term monogamous relationship, that have tested negative. I won't use the word 'discriminatory', as I agree that discrimination has nothing to do with it. And I don't think practising safe-sex in a monogamous relationship is relevant. But I don't consider safe-sex to be a sane choice in a closed relationship.
posted by Goofyy at 1:20 AM on May 27, 2010


On the other hand, I can't even begin to imagine the number of USians who would refuse blood transfusions from "fags" if the ban were lifted.

If people who hate gays that much would refuse to take clean, healthy blood and die rather than have "fag blood" in them, well, they'd be dead and there's be bllod in the blood banks for people who aren't moronic asshats.

Shorter version: you say that like it's a bad thing.

How can a medically imposed ban against certain classes of blood donors--outdated or not--qualify in anyone's mind as discriminatory?

When it's based on prejudice rather than good science. If zarq is going to make the effort of posting all those links and all that information, you could at least pause your hobby-horse to take a quick look at them on your way to let us know your opinion.
posted by rodgerd at 1:26 AM on May 27, 2010


The fact that they ask all those screening questions about other risky behaviours is not proof that the questionnaire is not discriminatory, it's exactly the opposite. You've already asked me about unprotected sex, why the hell does the gender combination matter? The redundancy is the problem here.

I used to donate on a regular basis (people working in hospitals are heavily pressured to, which is a whole other problem), and every time I would bring this up to the nurse during the questionnaire. Every one of them agreed that the policy is outdated and completely useless, but when you write the Canadian Blood Bank the canned response makes it clear that they are VERY attached to the idea that their homophobic policies exist for the greater good of mankind.
posted by Freyja at 8:06 AM on May 27, 2010


An estimated 5.4 per cent of gay men are infected with HIV-AIDS, compared to 0.08 per cent of heterosexuals

This is accounting known, confirmed infections - these are the people least likely to transmit HIV to anyone.

Huh? Who else but HIV-infected people transmit HIV to others?
posted by tristeza at 6:44 PM on May 28, 2010


People who know they are infected with HIV very rarely contribute to the spread of the disease, because they are aware of the risks (unless they are a psychopath, but then they could just as easily be killing people outright.) They are, in fact, legally obligated to inform their partners they have HIV. Transmission of the virus occurs when people go undiagnosed and untreated, and therefore have a high viral load and are less likely to take adequate precautions.

Sorry if you misread my comment.
posted by mek at 7:32 PM on May 28, 2010


I just logged back in to say that, indeed, I had totally misread it - took me until a second ago when it clicked. Apologies!
posted by tristeza at 9:21 PM on May 28, 2010


A friend of mine out west had--when I knew him--been monogamously coupled with his husband since the 60's.

And, since he answered honestly on the form that he had had sex with another man since 1977, was barred from donating blood.

It is flagrant discrimination, and I am frankly disgusted that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms didn't put an end to it.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:52 PM on May 28, 2010


An estimated 5.4 per cent of gay men are infected with HIV-AIDS, compared to 0.08 per cent of heterosexuals – a 67-fold difference

mek: This is accounting known, confirmed infections - these are the people least likely to transmit HIV to anyone. The number we can only guess at are unconfirmed, untreated infections.

I'm not sure I follow. Confirmed infections would tell you the proportion of HIV-positive individuals who are gay or straight, not what proportion of gay or straight people are HIV-positive, which is what that statistic refers to.

I guess in reality I'm taking issue with the idea that researchers have a firm idea of what percentage of the population are gay or straight, given the huge variation (less than 1% to 10%) I often hear cited. Again, I obviously could be wrong here so I'd love more of an explanation.
posted by Adam_S at 11:20 AM on May 30, 2010


We're saying about the same thing. There are plenty of unconfirmed HIV-positive individuals out there spreading the disease unknowingly, and we have no idea what the gay-to-notgay ratio is there. I'd argue it's probably much, much more even because individuals who identify as gay are extremely likely to be tested regularly (due to awareness campaigns, community pressure, etc), while closeted individuals are much less so because these programs do not reach them.
posted by mek at 8:07 PM on May 31, 2010


I am frankly disgusted that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms didn't put an end to it.

I wasn't aware that the ability to donate blood was something guaranteed by the Charter.
posted by antifuse at 1:16 PM on June 1, 2010


It's not, of course. But Canadian Blood Services or whatever it's called now is a quasi-governmental organisation as-is, and to my non-lawyer mind would thus be covered under antidiscrimination legislation.

Either way, it's fucking sickening.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:06 PM on June 1, 2010


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