Allow Gay Blood Donation OK Only if Safe

by Wesley J. Smith

Despite decades of prevention attempts and drastically improved treatment methods, HIV infection rates have not abated.

Indeed, the statistics are very disturbing. About 20% of urban gay men in the USA are infected. In the USA alone, about 50,000 people become newly infected each year–many, if not most, based on unsafe homosexual practices.

That isn’t a moral judgment. It is a scientific fact. Thus I am leery of a move to allow gay men to donate blood, now banned for decades because of the threat of spreading HIV through blood transfusion. From the Washington Times story:

A push by activists to ease the 30-year-old blanket ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men faces a key test this week as a federal panel hears results of the latest research. The findings will be released amid growing pressure from politicians and advocates, including college students, to change the policy…

Under Food and Drug Administration rules, men who have had sex with men (MSM) since 1977 are ineligible to donate blood. An acknowledgment of having male homosexual relations at any time in one’s life is enough to disqualify a potential donor.

“This policy is discriminatory and inadequate,” said a petition drive at WhiteHouse.gov started in early November by students at the University of Michigan. The students’ solution is to change the questionnaire to ask prospective blood donors, “Have you had unprotected sexual contact with a new partner in the past 12 weeks?”

I am certainly not an expert in the field. but the proposal seems very unwise to me–both as too limited in scope and too short a time duration in questioning sexual practices.

Yes, there are tests for blood, reducing transmission risk. But an HIV-infected person can go a long time without knowing they are ill. Moreover, sometimes HIV can be spread even when condoms are used.

Bottom line: There is not a “right” to give blood. The burden of proof should be very high and solely on those wishing to change the rule. A decision to change existing policy should not be based on politics or worries about discrimination against gay and bisexual men. Rather, it must be determined solely on safety.

In this regard, it is worth noting that a patient in Japan was recently infected with HIV by a blood transfusion from a newly infected donor.