A group of Democratic senators, led by John Kerry, are requesting the FDA overturn their lifetime ban on accepting blood donations from gay men. The ban was established in 1983 to prevent the spread of HIV infection through the blood supply. The FDA states the ban also prevents the spread of hepatitis as gay men have a higher rate of infection than the general population.
One website commented on the matter, “If you’re gay, you can’t donate blood. It’s illegal.”
Technically, no. The act of donating blood while gay is not illegal. What is illegal is for the donation center to knowingly accept blood from donors who meet certain criteria issued by the FDA. From the FDA website:
FDA requires blood centers to maintain lists of unsuitable donors to prevent the use of collections from them.
This may be splitting hairs, but if the act of donating or attempting donation was criminal, local jails would be bursting not only with gay men but with many other altruistic offenders as well.
I’m O negative, the universal donor, so my blood is a hot commodity — so valuable I have to give it away for free! — and I donate fairly regularly because that’s how my species reproduces. When you donate, you first have to answer a lengthy and tedious verbal questionnaire not only about sexual behavior, drug use, blood transfusions, tattoos, piercings, and hepatitis, but also about brain-membrane transplants, living and eating meat in the British Isles (worries about mad-cow and Creutzfeldt-Jakob diseases), travels in Africa, Lyme disease, and — most terrifying of all — Babesiosis, which one phlebotomist/Countess Bathory described to me as a “super Lyme disease” prevalent in southern New England. Answering yes to some of these questions may result in temporary deferrals from donating; others will ban you permanently. None will result in arrest. The worst that could happen is if you lied and then perjured yourself by signing the paperwork.
Also according to the FDA, the questionnaire filters out “approximately 90 percent of unsuitable donors,” though of course only a portion of them actually have dirty blood. The FDA is discriminating against whole swaths of people based on their experiences, not just gay men. This suggests to me the nation’s blood supply isn’t in dire straits as we are sometimes led to believe.
As a universal donor, you can see how my blood is doubly desirable because of my wholesome clean living. I’ve never gotten a tattoo, never banged another dude, never traveled in sub-Saharan Africa, never lived abroad…
Jeez, my life is really boring.