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Lane: Lift the ban on gay blood donation

BY JOE LANE | DECEMBER 19, 2014 5:00 AM

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Thirty-one years ago, the Food and Drug Administration placed a ban on blood donations from any man who has had sex with another man — even once. Since that time, a lot has changed. HIV and AIDS research has advanced, testing for the disease is comparatively quick, and acceptance of gay marriage and culture has grown as well.

But despite all this development, one thing has remained unchanged: the ban.

Not only has the ban not been lifted, but when the Department of Health and Human Services met last week to discuss potentially lifting it, the matter was shut down before even reaching a formal vote, according to Slate.com.

The archaic rule, designed to protect U.S. blood banks from potentially receiving blood contaminated with HIV, has become much more than outdated. It is now, because of scientific advancement, an outright denial of a group of people based on their sexual orientation.

The most shocking part about the rule isn’t its existence; the late-70s were, after all, a different time in both gay culture and the scientific community. What is surprising is that prominent members of the scientific community have not advanced to a point in which they believe there is a better way to prevent HIV from getting into our blood supply than a sweeping ban of any man that has ever had sex with another man.

Luckily, I am (unsurprisingly) not alone in the belief that the ban must go. Earlier this week, 80 congressional lawmakers sent a letter to the Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, making my exact argument — but taking it a step further.

The letter includes the following passage: “If we are serious about protecting and enhancing our nation’s blood supply, we must embrace science and reject outdated stereotypes.”

The argument presented by these lawmakers is unique. In many gay rights (and civil rights) debates in this country, the primary explanation used by the side in favor of extending rights is not grounded in science but rather in respect for a group of individuals — which, of course, is also important.

According to the Washington Post, 1.8 percent of men in this country self-identify as gay. The 2010 census had the male population in the United States at slightly more than 150 million, meaning that (under the relatively unlikely assumption that the entirety of this 1.8 percent has had sex with another man) nearly 3 million individuals are ineligible to donate blood. This, of course, is not to mention heterosexual men who have ever had sex with another man.

And while there is no doubt whether some of these individuals do have HIV/AIDS or a partner with the disease, that shouldn’t bar every one of them from donating blood.

I’ll admit it; part of my motives for wanting this ban to be lifted are completely selfish, why wouldn’t I want there to be the maximum amount of blood available in U.S. blood banks should I ever need it?

The FDA has the historic opportunity to lift this ban; it could be one of the first gay-rights improvements in U.S. history built not only on respect for a subset of the U.S. population but on scientific advancement as well. To me, it seems shockingly obvious what must be done. Lift the ban.


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