Why Did They Stop Him From Donating Blood?

It’s bad enough that gay people men who have sex with men are forbidden from donating blood because of a decades-old antiquated policy that began because we didn’t have tests to check the blood for HIV. Now that those tests exist, even if they’re not perfect, it’s hard to argue that the policy should be kept in place. Or, if it is kept in place for the purpose of preventing HIV from getting into the blood supply, then should the ban also apply to other groups of people at higher risks of HIV-infection?

But in Gary, Indiana, they’re going a step beyond that — they’re stopping you from donating if you simply look gay:

Aaron Pace is admittedly and noticeably effeminate, but he says he’s not homosexual.

Still, his looks, character and behavior prompted a blood donation center to reject him when he tried to donate blood recently and he’s miffed, to say the least.

“I was humiliated and embarrassed,” said Pace, 22. of Gary. “It’s not right that homeless people can give blood but homosexuals can’t. And I’m not even a homosexual.”

Pace visited Bio-Blood Components Inc. in Gary, which pays for blood and plasma donations, up to $40 a visit. But during the interview screening process, Pace said he was told he could not be a blood donor there because he “appears to be a homosexual.”

Somewhere, Pastor Mark Driscoll is doing a victory dance.

***Update***: I’ve updated the first paragraph to clarify issues mentioned by commenters.

***Update 2***: A reader sent me this email and gave me permission to post it here:

I’ve worked in the biologics industry for almost four years. In fact, it’s what I’ve been doing since I left Christianity and dropped out of the seminary. So, as an industry insider, let me provide some clarification.

In the case of this one guy who was turned away because he looked kind of gay, it was wrong. If one of my employees had done that, I would have given them quite the ass chewing. Fortunately, based on experience, I know that none of them would do that. There have been several times that we’ve received information that a donor is engaged in high risk behavior, but each time we make sure the donor is aware of the importance of accurate answers and we have to take their word for it.

We do not care about someone’s sexual orientation, all we care about is whether or not someone is part of a group that is at statistically higher risk for HIV or HCV. This includes a lot more groups than just men who have sex with men, but due to company policy I can’t go into specific high risk groups or other deferral criteria. I can safely say that lesbians are more than welcome to donate blood or plasma, especially since they are at the lowest risk.

Due to these measures, as well as the ever increasing accuracy of testing and advanced viral inactivation techniques, no one has contracted a disease form plasma products in over 17 years. Okay, there’s one possible case from a couple years ago, but the condition was CJD and the patient lived in the UK so the source of the infection has not been determined. Whole blood is more dangerous due to the short shelf life (28 days), the fact that most blood donors only donate once (so very limited seriological history), and the fact that most of the viral inactivation techniques would destroy the blood cells. So I can understand a whole blood donation center being over cautious.

Testing is never 100% accurate since there is always the chance of a false negative. This could be due to the person having a low viral load that’s below the threshold of a reactive PCR test or they have not produced enough antibodies to trip a reactive viral marker test. There’s also the chance that samples where mislabeled, drawn from the wrong unit, or that the results were read or entered incorrectly. With all the regulation and very high quality standards, the risk of human error is low, but it’s always possible.

The rigorous donor screening has the benefit of providing some protection against false negatives, but it also protects against emerging diseases or mutated strains that we are unaware of or unable to test for. You have to keep in mind that a few decades ago HIV and HCV both fell into this category. By 1988 70% of hemophilia patients had contracted HIV and nearly 100% had contracted HCV. We also have to look out for the safety of our employees, so this serves to minimize the risk of contracting an illness from a needle stick.

In both the blood and plasma industries, the safety of the patient is the highest concern.

Thanks,
Dustin Williams


About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Kevin S.

    Children are better off without parents than being raised by Teh Gay(TM).  Those in need of transfusions are better off going without than having Teh Gay(TM) in their veins.  Same shit, different arena.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    What does gay look like? My toes are painted green at the moment, does that make me gay because I enjoy some color on my toes?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=684125632 Aaron Harmon

      Yeah, kinda. :)

      • Kevin_Of_Bangor

        Well it all started with my daughter painting them and after I took the polish off my toes looked boring so I paint them now. Guys should be allowed to have pretty toes too. The daughter and I went to the beach last weekend and nobody gave me a funny look. I’ll attach a photo of my pretty toes. You gotta click to make it bigger.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=684125632 Aaron Harmon

          Are you a rock star or Tim Minchin? Because they get a pass.

          • Kevin_Of_Bangor

            I’m just your average ordinary everyday guy.

            • http://www.newbspeak.com Newbs

              Well, listen. yes, it’s super-gay. But here’s the thing: there’s nothing wrong with either being gay or looking gay. So you’re in the clear.

        • Vanessa

          Props to you for doing what you like regardless of what others might think.

          • Kevin_Of_Bangor

            Thank you Vanessa for saying that. Made me smile :-)

        • J B Bell

          Hooray for expanding what’s OK for straight guys!

          • Kevin_Of_Bangor

            Painting my fingernails is the next hurdle but I might do it just to see what happens.

            • Meredith L.

              good for you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.tingley Richard Tingley

    While I agree that the situation is reprehensible, if an organization is paying for blood do they not have the right to chose who they take blood from?

    • Ben

      That doesn’t mean they are immune from criticism, which is what all of this is. Nobody is suggesting changing the law to force them into it, everybody is just saying they should adjust their criteria.

      • Anonymous

        I’m suggesting anti-discrimination laws to force the hand of The Red Cross and other blood donation organizations.

        • Geph_c

          It is not the policy of the Red Cross or other blood banks to ban homosexual men from donating, that comes from the FDA.  The Red Cross and others have been lobbying for years to get the ban relaxed in some way.
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MSM_blood_donor_controversy#United_States

          • Anonymous

            The regulatory environment in the blood and plasma industries is very
            complex. In my four years in the industry I’ve seen a substantial increase
            in regulation (most of which is coming from Europe) and gone through audits
            from six different regulatory bodies (including a customer and our own
            corporation).

            The Red Cross is in a unique situation since, at least as of a few years
            ago, they are under a Consent Decree from the FDA which requires CEBR’s
            explicit approval for any procedural changes.

        • Geph_c

          It is not the policy of the Red Cross or other blood banks to ban homosexual men from donating, that comes from the FDA.  The Red Cross and others have been lobbying for years to get the ban relaxed in some way.
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MSM_blood_donor_controversy#United_States

  • http://twitter.com/gingerjet tim

    You can be gay and give blood.  You can’t have sex with men and give blood.  So the fact that the individual appeared  “feminine” and thought he was gay is not relevant to the current policy in place.  And if they really cared about “protecting the blood supply” they would ban black men from giving blood as they have shown to be at higher risk for HIV and other sexual transmitted diseases than other demographic groups.  But this isn’t about keep the blood supply safe.

  • http://twitter.com/gingerjet tim

    You can be gay and give blood.  You can’t have sex with men and give blood.  So the fact that the individual appeared  “feminine” and thought he was gay is not relevant to the current policy in place.  And if they really cared about “protecting the blood supply” they would ban black men from giving blood as they have shown to be at higher risk for HIV and other sexual transmitted diseases than other demographic groups.  But this isn’t about keep the blood supply safe.

  • Anonymous

    What do we need to get this one on the radar? I mean, this is only just behind gay marriage and adoption as far as discrimination goes. In fact, it may actually be worse than the marriage discrimination, if only just, purely because not only is this hurting the GLBT crowd, it’s also hurting everyone else who might need the blood. This kind of ridiculous BS has to come to a stop, it’s absolutely disgusting.

    (Formerly Nakor.)

    • Shawn

      See, while I understand that there are MSM that are in committed relationships, making arguments based on “discrimination” in this instance will not convince anyone. This is a science based question. Check out the CDC website http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/surveillance/incidence.htm that shows the ratios for new infections in the US. If 54% of new HIV infections were red-haired people, and red-haired people only comprised like 3% of the population (remember this is only gay men), then they wouldn’t be allowed to donate blood either. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/ptrinkwell Pierrot Trinkwell

        I also see on the CDC website that 45% of new infections are in African Americans… And yet they represent less than 13% of the population…

        Maybe they shouldn’t be allowed to give blood???

        Thanks for helping me understand the numbers, because now I think it really looks like discrimination.

        • Villa

          When you exclude transmissions from MSM and IV drug use you’re left with 15.4% of the total infections.    (Using this data: http://www.avert.org/usa-race-age.htm )

      • Anonymous

        Yes, since posting this I’ve learned more. However, for what it’s worth, the targeting could be improved. For example, in the case of a homosexual male in a committed relationship for an extended period of time who has no intercourse outside that relationship, it’s reasonable to conclude that if HIV were present it would not be a recent development, and should therefore be easier to detect.

  • http://disienai.tumblr.com/ Semipermeable

    So what if they allow homeless people to donate blood?

    They aren’t all dirty, flea infested crazies like many media outlets depict. Sure, the more visible ones may be, but that isn’t true for all of them. Even if they do seem stereotypical, that does not make them some lesser form of human being. 

    My uncle dated a lady for several weeks before she confessed that she had lost her job, her home, and had spent a year living out of her car while trying to find employment that would get her a safe apartment. Sometimes life is just crappy. 

    Any healthy consenting person of legal age who fits reasonable requirements should be able to donate and it was wrong that this fellow was turned away, but there is no need for him to dump on other disadvantaged groups. 

    ‘They let icky people donate, but not me, it’s not fair!’

  • Anonymous

    I’m reminded of the M*A*S*H episode where the guy wanted the “right” kind of blood.

  • nanuq905

    I don’t disagree that deferring someone because they “look gay” is stupid. However, I feel that someone should point out that the “gay” deferral is not as cut and dry as Hemant makes it out to be. Yes, there are tests for HIV, but they are not 100% effective. There are still a sufficiently large amount of false negatives. Also, there is the fact that even current tests can’t detect HIV for a certain period (I think it’s around the two week mark) following transmission.

    The deferral is also not for homosexuals, but for homosexual males who have had sex with other males. If you are a gay man who is still a virgin, you are allowed to donate. Blood services also defer against the other largest HIV carriers (those who were born in or lived in Africa, and anyone of any gender who has paid/received money or drugs for sex). They also defer people for other risks, such as Avian Bird Flu and Mad Cow for the same false negatives reason.

    I know it’s not ideal (believe me, I would love to see EVERYONE be able to donate blood, especially given the low donation rates), but until we produce tests that are 100% sure, this sort of screening is the best option to protect blood recipients, many of whom are immuno-compromised to begin with. In Canada, there was a tainted-blood “scandal” when patients were given blood infected with HIV. The government had to pay out a HUGE amount of money to those victims.

    On a slightly side note, homosexual men are able to join the bone marrow registry. This is because the process takes a long time, and the donor is tested over and over again. Both of these things reduce the probability of HIV being present and not detected.

    • TSC

      It was Hep C in Canada, not HIV. 

  • TychaBrahe

    Hemant, I’m hugely pro-gay rights.  I’m a regular blood donor myself, and upset about the dwindling supply of donors, but…

    1.  Tests for HIV aren’t foolproof, especially shortly after infection.  You can still spread the virus before you test positive for it.

    2.  Between 2006 and 2009, 74% of new HIV infections were a result of male-to-male sex.  An additional 3% occurred in people who were both IV drug users and participants in male-to-male sex.  http://www.avert.org/usa-transmission-gender.htm

    I realize that the ban on accepting donation of blood from gays is horribly unfair to those in committed relationships, those who always practice safe sex, and those who are celibate, but in light of these two facts, I do not believe that we can in good conscience permit gays to donate blood.

    As for paid transactions of bodily fluids, I agree with Richard, that we cannot legislate what a private company accepts.  Most sperm banks screen for attractiveness, physical fitness, and education/intelligence.  Should we force them by law to accept sperm from someone with a congenital disease, just because it’s unfair to discriminate?

    • http://feedle.livejournal.com/ A. Baumann

      So, let me get this straight.  A hetersexual woman who’s had sex with hundreds of untested partner is less of a risk than a homosexual male who is monogamous?

      • nanuq905

        No..that woman would be deferred from donating under the questions, “Have you ever had sex with someone whose sexual background you didn’t know.”

        • Anonymous

          Could not a similar question be worded for gay men in committed relationships? Something like, “Have you in the last ___ days had sex with anyone with whom you have not had sex prior?” or something like that? Ignore my particular wording in favour of the idea that some better wording exists. If a couple have been together for a year and neither has had sex outside the relationship, it seems unlikely that HIV would be recently present, meaning it should easily show up in testing.

        • http://www.facebook.com/ptrinkwell Pierrot Trinkwell

          I think that should be the way to go for any potential donor. People wanting to GIVE blood have a good idea that their blood is safe and if there’s a risk, the questionnaire should take care of it. And the tests made on the blood of course.

          Companies BUYING blood should be able to make their own rules.

          • TychaBrahe

            Actually, before the FDA made it against the law, many gay health groups were recommending that one way to see if you were positive, without paying for what was at the time very expensive testing with few privacy guarantees, was to donate blood.  The Red Cross would catch it.  Except, of course, when the test didn’t.

          • TychaBrahe

            Also, per the CDC:

            “According to one study published by the CDC in 2010, one in five MSM in the 21 cities surveyed has HIV and almost half are unaware of their status.”

            How can the questionnaire take care of it if 1/2 of those infected don’t even know it?

    • http://www.facebook.com/ptrinkwell Pierrot Trinkwell

      Lauren, the way I read the stats on the avert website is a little different from yours:

      - in 2009, 74% of new HIV diagnoses in males were the result of homosexual contact…

      - but, 85% of new diagnoses in females were the result of HETEROsexual contact…

      So, should heterosexual women be forbidden from giving blood?

    • http://www.facebook.com/ptrinkwell Pierrot Trinkwell

      Lauren, the way I read the stats on the avert website is a little different from yours:

      - in 2009, 74% of new HIV diagnoses in males were the result of homosexual contact…

      - but, 85% of new diagnoses in females were the result of HETEROsexual contact…

      So, should heterosexual women be forbidden from giving blood?

    • http://www.facebook.com/ptrinkwell Pierrot Trinkwell

      Lauren, the way I read the stats on the avert website is a little different from yours:

      - in 2009, 74% of new HIV diagnoses in males were the result of homosexual contact…

      - but, 85% of new diagnoses in females were the result of HETEROsexual contact…

      So, should heterosexual women be forbidden from giving blood?

      • TychaBrahe

        Except that “CDC statistics show that in 2008, 73% of persons living with a diagnosis of HIV infection were male adults or adolescents.”

        So infected men are a larger pool than infected women.  77% of 73% is much larger than 85% of 27%.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ptrinkwell Pierrot Trinkwell

      Lauren, the way I read the stats on the avert website is a little different from yours:

      - in 2009, 74% of new HIV diagnoses in males were the result of homosexual contact…

      - but, 85% of new diagnoses in females were the result of HETEROsexual contact…

      So, should heterosexual women be forbidden from giving blood?

  • Lauren

    gay does not equal HIV and HIV does not equal gay.  the highest infection rates these days are heterosexual women.  the gay community has done a lot of work and infection rates are down.  The ban on gay blood isn’t that helpful.  Should they ban black women from donating?  that is the population subgroup with the highest rates at the moment.  

    • http://profiles.google.com/noadiart Sheryl Westleigh

      This isn’t accurate, at all. The gay community has made huge progress with HIV prevention but they still have the highest infection rate, gay and bisexual men still account for nearly half of all new HIV infections in the US. I think the FDA rules are wrong and outdated but you can’t counter that with inaccurate statistics.

      (BTW I do believe women do have the highest infection rate in Africa but that’s not relevant to rules in the United States)

  • http://a-million-gods.blogspot.com/ Avicenna

    The issue is actually one of screening. In the UK they actually do not give you money for donating blood. You actually get “a place to sit down for a while, a magazine to read, tea, biscuits, cake and a little sticker that says “be nice to me, I gave blood” so that people will let you sit on buses and be a tad nicer to you. 

    They do ask about “risky behaviour” and emphasise the reasons why they do ask you. Unprotected anal sex is just one of those risky behaviours (be it straight or gay). Gay people are also banned not because they are more likely to have AIDS but that they are more likely to be in the latency period of HIV where it cannot be detected due to the higher incidence of HIV/AIDs in the community. Promiscuity is checked up vigorously and you are expected to answer honestly since they do point out the fear of HIV. I for instance cannot donate blood back home as I live in a malaria and dengue zone. 

    HIV Tests work by detecting antibodies produced by the body to the HIV virus. There is a period of latency where you can be HIV positive and not be detected by the test. Homosexual men are still more likely to carry HIV unknowingly owing to two reasons. The statistics (Assuming both gay and straight men are equally promiscuous, gay men end up sleeping with a greater proportion of the gay population than a straight man does. For instance in a population of a 50 gay people, if you sleep with 10 you have slept with 20% of the population. Assuming that 5% of people are gay, you have a population of roughly a 1000 straight men (and by correlation roughly a 1000 straight women). Sleeping with 10 women you find you have slept with roughly 1% of the population. It’s why STDs spread so rapidly in gay people (assuming equal promiscuity) since each gay person counts for a greater percentage of the population of available sexual partners since they are for all intents and purposes a separate “sexual society” within hours (for the most part. We are not including bisexuals and closetted gay men who indulge a bit on the side).  The UK has no ban on lesbian donations (to my knowledge) as the spread is even lower than in straight couples. 

    The other issue is that gay people still have low usage of condoms but that’s on the rise anyway. 

    It will come about in time, the issue is mainly medical rather than homophobic. As scanning techniques for HIV get cheaper (the ELISA test helps a lot considering how rapid it is and how simple the kits are to use) and better the more and more high risk individuals can use it to clear them for blood donation. 

    (Note the author has had two HIV scares in his life and has had to take lanivudine and zidovudine for two months as prophylaxis)

    • Anonymous

      These days the highest risk group for HIV is actually black straight women I think

      • http://a-million-gods.blogspot.com/ Avicenna

        It’s actually a rumour being spread around. 

        From 2001 through 2004, the estimated number of HIV/AIDS cases increased among whites, Asians/Pacific Islanders, and American Indians/Alaska Natives, and decreased among blacks and Hispanics. Blacks accounted for 50% of all HIV/AIDS cases diagnosed in 2004.
        From 2001 through 2004, the estimated number of HIV/AIDS cases decreased approximately 2% among males and 15% among females. In 2004, males accounted for 73% of all HIV/AIDS cases among adults and adolescents.
        From 2001 through 2004, the estimated number of HIV/AIDS cases increased among men who have sex with men (MSM). The estimated number of HIV/AIDS cases decreased among injection drug users (IDUs), MSM who were also IDUs, heterosexual adults and adolescents, and among children. MSM (47%) and persons exposed through heterosexual contact (33%) accounted for 80% of all HIV/AIDS cases diagnosed in 2004.
        (source http://www.hivinfosource.org/hivis/hivbasics/demographics/)

        If you note nearly 50% of cases are MSM (a lot of them black gay men) not black women. Consider that nearly 5 to 7% of the population at any given point is considered MSM (demography wise) and you realise how much more common it is. 

        Worldwide, maybe women do hold the most infections. But not in the first world nations to which we generally belong to. In this specific case the idea holds true. 

    • Ruf

      There’s also vast quantities of orange squash.

      The UK National Blood Service along with the government Department of Health advisory committee are, I understand, currently reviewing its position. I gather that the position will be deferral for ten years (this figure is to be reviewed roughly biennialy, and is largely based on the epidemiology of HIV in the UK.

      This strikes me as the most sensible policy. If any dogma, even anti-discrimination is exercises more influence on the decision-making process than the science then something is badly wrong.

  • http://cycleninja.blogspot.com CycleNinja

    “Somewhere, Pastor Marc Driscoll is doing a victory dance.”

    More like the ACLU.

  • http://a-million-gods.blogspot.com/ Avicenna

    In addition in the UK I have been asked have you participated in anal sex even if you are not homosexual. It’s high risk even for us straights. You will be deferred if you have done it recently with someone you “don’t know”.

    I do feel the ban should change to include gay people with a single partner. I understand why it exists but it is excluding actual safe donors because of it’s blanket nature.

  • http://a-million-gods.blogspot.com/ Avicenna

    In addition in the UK I have been asked have you participated in anal sex even if you are not homosexual. It’s high risk even for us straights. You will be deferred if you have done it recently with someone you “don’t know”.

    I do feel the ban should change to include gay people with a single partner. I understand why it exists but it is excluding actual safe donors because of it’s blanket nature.

    • Salcia

      This is a good point. Anal sex is, as I understand it, an increasingly common sexual experiment for straight people.

      I have a sense that tolerance for sexual experimentation is increasing and more and more people are testing the waters with sexual behaviour they never would’ve considered in the past – for instance, flirting with bisexuality in college, trying on different practices and identities. If we continue to exclude men who have EVER had sex with a man (even if it was twenty years ago, even if disease would definitely be apparent in a blood test) we’re closing the door on a huge number of potential donors, not just gay men who are monogamous but straight/bi men who’ve turned their back on a wilder sexual past. Where I live, in Canada, a man who has had male-on-male sex any time within the last 30 years may not give blood, no matter what the circumstances.

      What’s more, a woman can’t give blood unless she’s sure she hasn’t had sex with any MSM for the past six months. Which means, aside from the fact that we’re assuming full disclosure from all her partners, we’re also excluding women who are married or in committed relationships with any man who’s had sex with a man EVER.

      Long story short: you can actually get excluded from the blood pool because your husband experimented sexually one time with his roommate in university twenty-eight years ago. So when they pull out those blood services commercials saying how desperately  hard-up they are for donors, I have a hard time feeling very much sympathy.

      • http://a-million-gods.blogspot.com/ Avicenna

        I find it weird, the british blood bank doesn’t pay for blood and recieves regular donations. Indian banks don’t pay for blood and receive donations. 

        It is my theory that getting blood for free may actually increase donations since it’s seen as charity rather than a money spinning scheme. 

  • Villa

    “then should the ban also apply to other groups of people at higher risks of HIV-infection?”

    Which groups are you referring to?  We’re looking for groups that :
    1.  are identifiable via survey questions
    2.  have a higher per-capita chance of being newly infected
    3.  are not currently banned from donating blood

    If you can show that such a group exists, then I’d agree that this is clear evidence of discrimination.   If not, then the above statement seems rather misleading as it implies that such groups exist and are not banned.

    • Anonymous

      Such groups do exist. The rate of new HIV infections is pretty high in the African American community for example.

      It’s really not surprising that straight people play down the risk, since it’s long been seen as a “gay disease” and with current medication AIDS isn’t a death sentence anymore. So people are less conscious about protection than in the 90s

      • Villa

        What numbers are you using?

        When I look here: http://www.avert.org/usa-race-age.htm it seems that the per-capita infection rate for non-MSM african americans would be lower than the infection rate for MSM generally. 

        If you have better data (or I’m calculating things wrong) I’d be happy to be shown that I’m mistaken.

  • Anonymous

    The criteria for exclusion of a group from donating blood should be determined by the probability that a member of that group has a dangerous blood borne disease multiplied by the false negative rate of the tests for said disease and weighted by how much that puts the blood supply as a whole at risk. 

    These are quantifiable questions.  I haven’t seen the numbers but I presume that the epidemiologists who work for the blood collecting agencies have, so I’m willing to defer to their judgment on this one. 

    Excluding Lyle the Effeminate Heterosexual is stupid though.

  • Rick Thomas

    If you believe the FDA policy is overly restrictive you should support the AABB, America’s Blood Centers and the American Red Cross’s recommendation that the FDA change the current deferral for men who have sex with men to a temporary, rather than lifetime, deferral.
    This would be more consistent with similar HIV risk factors. You can
    take an active role to change the policy by contacting the FDA and your U.S. congressional representatives in the house and senate.

  • Anonymous

    The ban is bullshit on different levels.

    1. It is not applied equally to all groups. Black gay men are more likely than white gay men to contract HIV, but no one is proposing separating the ban by race, because the oucry would be deafening.
    2. Questionaires depend on donating people to be honest. It’s completely reasonable to suppose that a small proportion of people will lie in order to qualify for donation (especially if they are being paid). Considering the sheer numbers, heterosexual men donating right now while lying about risky activities could likely outnumber the number of gay donors.
    3. “Gay men” is too broad a category. It covers disco-bunnies and married monogamous fathers. I can see excluding the disco-bunny (assuming he has sex) but that’s not a good justification for excluding the married father. It would be relatively simple to add, after “Are you a gay male”, questions pertaining to their activities and partnership.
    4.  Other countries seem to be getting on just fine without bans. In Spain we only ask about risky behavior (unprotected sex, drug use, tattoos) and so far as I can tell we are not living in an HIV disaster zone.
    5. Just being gay prevents you from donating forever. What if you’re a virgin? What if you haven’t gotten laid in 10 years? How does this make any kind of sense?

    • http://profiles.google.com/noadiart Sheryl Westleigh

      If you’re a virgin the ban doesn’t apply. The actual question isn’t “are you gay” but if you’re male have you had sex with another man since 1979. Still a wrong policy since it doesn’t take into account when the last sexual encounter was and if the person is in a monogamous relationship or for how long. In fact if you have been a (female) prostitute or an IV drug users you only have to wait 1 year after the last time you engaged in those activities to give blood.

  • Anonymous

    Last time I checked, I’m not allowed to donate blood because I’m from Ireland, and there was an outbreak of mad cow disease in England during the 80′s or 90′s. Ireland is a different country, but the Red Cross doesn’t know or care.

    • TychaBrahe

      You should be able to donate blood if you’re from Ireland.  Northern Ireland is restricted because they are part of the UK.

      • Erp

         Not quite true, being in Europe outside of the UK for a longer period of time (I think 6 months) also puts you on the do not donate list (at least in the US, it certainly doesn’t apply to donating in the UK or else almost no one could donate there).   I’m out for the UK limit (so is a friend who was a confirmed vegetarian while living there). 

        Personally  I think the evidence goes to modifying the ban on all men who’ve had sex with men.

        • Anonymous

          The rules vary with each firm and whether it’s whole blood, fresh frozen plasma, source plasma, platelets, packed red blood cells, etc. The particular firm I work for in the bioligics industry does allow donors from Ireland, but not Northern Ireland based on CJD risk.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    I donate blood to the Red Cross every 8 weeks, and every time I have to answer  the same dozens of  questions. In addition to the several about have I had sexual contact with a male ever, if I can remember them correctly, there are questions about having been in Europe within the last six years for a time span totaling x number of weeks. They ask if I have ever been to anywhere in the continent of Africa for any length of time, and have I ever had sexual contact with anyone who came from, or who ever traveled to anywhere in the continent of Africa, or anywhere in the Caribbean.

    I can only assume that the questions about Europe are concerning “Mad Cow Disease,” and the ones about Africa and the Caribbean are about HIV/AIDS.

    Sheesh. I wonder if this is more lawyer-driven than science-driven.

  • Anonymous

    “Or, if it is kept in place for the purpose of preventing HIV from getting into the blood supply, then should the ban also apply to other groups of people at higher risks of HIV-infection?” Actually, there are several other groups who are not allowed to donate blood because of their higher risk of transmission of HIV and other infectious diseases. Here are a few examples:
    - People who have lived with another person who is Hep B or Hep C positive within the past 12 months. This includes roommates, not just family members.
    - People who have been diagnosed with dementia or other demyelinating disease of the CNS.
    - People who spent 3 months or more in the U.K. between 1980 and 1996.
     
    http://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/Guidances/Tissue/ucm073964.htm#THEDONOR-ELIGIBILITYDETERMINATION1271.50

    • TychaBrahe

      Except not all of those are about HIV.  The UK one is about nvCJD (mad cow disease).  There’s another one for time in the military, time in Mexico or Central America (for Chagas disease), many drugs, receipt of dura matter (that’s also nvCJD).  

      The HIV ones are 1) being a man who has had sex with another man even once since 1980, 2) being a woman who has had sex with another man since 1980, 3) being incarcerated for more than 72 hours within the last year, 3) having exchanged sex for money or drugs, 4) being the sexual partner of someone who has exchanged money for sex or drugs, 5) being an IV drug user, 6) being the sexual partner of an IV drug user, and 7) getting a tattoo or piercing.  The tattoo or piercing is merely a yellow flag.  Most tattoo piercing parlors follow strict health guidelines.

      By the way, per http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/testing/resources/qa/index.htm, most people develop antibodies to HIV within 2-to-8 weeks of exposure.  Eight weeks is the minimum amount of time between blood donations.  When I donate, I schedule the next appointment eight weeks out.  So I could donate blood, have sex with someone infected that night, and still not test positive for the virus at my next donation.

      Look, someone could conceivably claim that we are discriminating against Latinos because you can’t donate blood if you were born in Mexico or have spent more than a certain amount of time there.  You can’t donate blood for a year after visiting parts of the Caribbean.  Are we discriminating against Latinos and Haitians, or are we discriminating against Chagas disease and malaria?

  • Lance

    Well,
    to be fair, the title is false. He wasn’t donating blood, he was selling it.
    Pace visited Bio-Blood Components Inc. in Gary, which pays for blood and plasma
    donations, up to $40 a visit. When blood (or anything) is offered up for
    sell…, I
    think the perspective buyer has the right decline if they think it will not be
    any good. In this case, they suspected the blood might be aids tainted and did
    not want to purchase it, but really, if you don’t want to buy, you shouldn’t
    have to buy or give a reason why.

  • prude

    i haven’t donated blood in years because of this. When they ask me to swear I haven’t had sex with someone in a high-risk group (which includes people who have had sex with a high-risk partner) I can’t honestly do so. I mean, I’m 99% positive my wife has been monogamous, but how can I guarantee it? it’s simply absurd. this was a bad idea in the beginning and has gotten worse over time as HIV enters different populations.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    It appears that the screening process is not 100% accurate, and in any case would not be effective in identifying infected persons who were in the very early stages of infection. If indeed that is the case, it is better for the sake of the innocents to err on the side of caution.

  • guest 42

     

    First
    of all, it is completely reasonable to exclude higher risk groups
    from donating blood. Secondly if you pay people for donating blood
    determining whether somebody belongs to a higher risk group through a
    questionnaire becomes less accurate because people tend to lie.
    Thirdly whether under such circumstances a good method is to go by
    the looks of the people can be questionable. But in any case this is
    not discrimination but rather poor risk control.

  • Anonymous

    Note that there wasn’t even a quick test for HIV antibodies before 1985. The same year the ban was introduced in the US. The blood supply was contaminated in the 70s before anyone knew of AIDSs and there were a couple of well known cases resulting from it.

    That’s why the ban was introduced and it made sense then. HIV tests may not be 100% reliable these days (it’s actually up to 99.9%), but they are a whole lot better than early ones.

    • Erp

      Actually a lot more than a couple.  Hemophiliacs to stop bleeding take a clotting factor product each dose made from many donations so they were at much higher risk of becoming HIV positive through blood donation; many became ill with AIDS and died.

      • Anonymous

        I know that there were many, many people who very infected via the blood supply.

        What I meant were “well known cases” that made the issue known to the public. In the US for example Ryan White and Elizabeth Glaser. It was people like that who showed that AIDS wasn’t just a “gay disease”.

  • Anonymous

    In the various bioligics industries (including blood and plasma) since you are taking fluids or tissues from one person and giving it to another there is always risk. For example, by 1988 70% of hemophilia patients contracted HIV and nearly 100% contracted HCV. There were also many other patients who required blood and/or blood components during the 1980s who contracted those diseases. 

    The testing methodology, utilizing both viral marker and PCR testing does a lot to help keep the nations blood supply clean, but due to the risk of emerging diseases and false negatives, rigorous screening is required. This is especially critical with whole blood donation as it has a very short shelf life (28 days) and most (if not all) of the viral inactivation techniques that provide an added layer of protection for plasma products would destroy the blood cells. 

    Since I work in the industry, I can’t discuss specific deferral criteria, but anyone who is part of a statistically verifiable high risk group for HIV and HCV is ineligible for donation. In some cases, just living in the wrong place can get you deferred if the area you live in has too high of a rate of reactive HIV and/or HCV test results.

    Given the choice between being overly picky or a patient getting sick from their treatment, I will always side with the patient. 

  • mike

    People get paid $40 to donate blood?  I’ve donated like a dozen times and never got anything, except maybe a hard cookie and styrofoam cup of room temperature Pepsi.

  • JB

    Lots of people have HIV and many don’t know it.  Don’t let people give blood.

  • http://oddboyout.blogspot.com/ oddboyout

    This is so antiquated I’ve actually had to tell people who run blood donation centers that they can’t accept my blood.

  • Kpymka

    Well, I wasn’t allowed to donate blood because I visited a psychiatrist for depression treatment 10 years ago.  The nurse told me nobody really knows how depression affects blood, that other people would not want to receive a blood from a mentally ill person, so they only accept healthy ones.  I tried to explain her that no, blood does not carry any “depression virus” or whatever, but she just went on repeating “we can’t be sure”. That totally ruined my day.

    • TychaBrahe

       That’s BS.  That’s not even a question.  It might be that you were given some drug that is banned or something.  Where did you try to donate?  Neither the Red Cross nor LifeSource nor my local private blood bank (Rush University Hospital) asks about depression.

  • Anonymous

    I’m jealous that you get paid.  I’ve given blood nearly 50 times and all I get are stickers and tea.

    I wonder what the criteria are for determining which groups are “risk” groups?  I mean people in their early 20s or late teens are likely to have more sexual partners in any given period than people in their 40s but there isn’t any kind of age discrimination.  City dwellers no doubt have much more casual sex than rural folk (I may be making this up) but geography isn’t a factor.  How much more likely is a man who has sex with men to be a HIV carrier than a man who has sex with women?  Is it twice as likely?  Ten times as likely?  If I, a 40 year old male monogamous male who prefers female partners am a 1% risk them where is the cut off?  50%, 10%

  • Anonymous

    I’m jealous that you get paid.  I’ve given blood nearly 50 times and all I get are stickers and tea.

    I wonder what the criteria are for determining which groups are “risk” groups?  I mean people in their early 20s or late teens are likely to have more sexual partners in any given period than people in their 40s but there isn’t any kind of age discrimination.  City dwellers no doubt have much more casual sex than rural folk (I may be making this up) but geography isn’t a factor.  How much more likely is a man who has sex with men to be a HIV carrier than a man who has sex with women?  Is it twice as likely?  Ten times as likely?  If I, a 40 year old male monogamous male who prefers female partners am a 1% risk them where is the cut off?  50%, 10%

    • TychaBrahe

      Search online for plasma donation.  Blood given for research projects and plasma given for processing into medical products can be paid.  It’s whole blood or blood products intended for other people that cannot be paid for.  Precisely because IV drug users were doing it for cash and introducing HIV and other blood-borne pathogens into the blood supply.

      I can’t tell you how many gay men have AIDS vs. straight men.  It wouldn’t mean much, since gay men are such a small part of the population.  But the site I posted above says that 77% of those with HIV are either men who have sex with other men, or men who have sex with other men and also use IV drugs.  Banning these people from donating means blocking all but 23% of the HIV-carrying population, and many of them are caught through other questions.

  • Anonymous

    Dustin, I understand that you feel your case is rational.  I understand that you have to stick up for the practices of your industry or risk feeling like a fraud when you go to work in the morning.  I admit that you raise a few valid points.  But no matter how well you phrase your argument, or how organized your thoughts are, or how much research you can reference, the basic premise of your argument will always sound to me like, “Reed, your blood is dirty because of who you are.  Your kind can’t be here.”

    What I don’t understand is why the plasma-for-cash industry is obviously dominated by questionnaire-defrauding, intravenous drug-using homeless clients, and on any given day in front of any random plasma center in the US you can see a line out front that looks like the serving line at a Jackson, Mississippi soup kitchen, complete with track marks up the clients’ arms, but I–an HIV-negative gay male who always uses condoms, who gets tested for HIV every three months and between every sexual partner, and who refuses to sleep with men who haven’t been tested since their last sexual relationship–would be thrown out of the clinic because I refuse to lie about my sexuality. The “regulars” are people I would never even consider being sexually active with simply because they’re so high-risk they LOOK like they have AIDS, so what makes you think I want their blood in my transfusion bags?  Why are gays the only risk group expressly forbidden?  Because of our history with the virus, we have much more organized in-community education, awareness, and prevention programs than any other risk group.  Gay men are the most likely people to voluntarily test for HIV regularly, they’re the most likely to ask their partners if they have been tested, and they’re the most likely to read information or do research on HIV detection and prevention.  AIDS has been our bogeyman for decades, and so we’re the most HIV-aware group in the country!  The only reason this policy is still enacted has nothing to do with HIV prevention or else black heterosexual women who make less than $20k/year, people who are or have ever been homeless, and all rape victims would also be banned from donation for that same reason.  The reason this policy still exists is, put simply, politics.

    • Anonymous

      You make a very unfair and inaccurate representation of plasma donors. Most
      are college students, military personal, and unemployed or underemployed
      people. Trust me, the screening process is geared a lot more towards keeping
      out the people you described than anyone else.

      If you want to get things changed, write a letter to the Centers for
      Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER). That is the division of the FDA
      that oversees blood and blood product regulation.

      • http://reedbraden.com Reed Braden

        Well, I can only comment on what I’ve seen in Roanoke, VA; Richmond, VA;  Knoxville, TN; Memphis, TN; Little Rock, AR; Jonesboro, AR; Dallas, TX; Alexandria, LA; Queens, NY; and Washington, D.C. 
        (Plasma donation and going broke on road trips go hand in hand, and sometimes one does have to lie about their sexuality.  Sorry for getting my dirty blood in your supply.)But yeah…  I’m sure most of those crack addicts were really just college kids who LOOK like crack addicts because they were up all night studying or something.

    • http://a-million-gods.blogspot.com/ Avicenna

      53% of new HIV sufferers in 2006 in the USA turned out to be MSM… 

      MSM make up in the USA 3.5% of the population. You do the arithmatic on how fast the disease is still spreading through the community. When it hit it was like a literal punch to the face. A huge influx. It’s still there and it’s still wailing on gay people to this day. 

      http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/factsheets/us.htm

      No seriously this is CDC information. I have not seen one place where poor black american women are the highest source of HIV.

      Worldwide perhaps. Not in the USA though. 

      • http://reedbraden.com Reed Braden

        That’s not what I said.  Gay men are still #1 in HIV infection, but those rates are going down.  We’re also #1 in HIV awareness, and (I’ve never seen a study, but I will assume, because it definitely seems to be the case:) #1 in HIV+ people knowing they’re HIV+.

        I wasn’t trying to say poor black woman have it worse than gay men on the HIV issue.  I’m trying to say they have a problem with it too… and they’re numbers are rising while ours are shrinking (though, admittedly, they have a lot more rising and we have a lot more shrinking to do before our numbers will meet up).  I’m saying that if they’re going to ban gay men from donating blood because they’re a risk group, they need to ban ALL risk groups.  Or… you know… do the sensible thing and test all patients before accepting blood rather than making blanket bans against entire groups of people.

        • Anonymous

          Due to my position I wouldn’t request this information from the CDC or CBER,
          but I would be curious about what their threshold reactive rates are for
          defining high risk groups. Since those are federal agencies, any US citizen
          could do a Freedom of Information Act Request to get the data. If anyone
          does this I would be interested in the report you get.

          Many of the areas you have mentioned do have zip code exclusions due to the
          HIV and HCV reactive rates in them. Geographically speaking, if a certain
          area, despite the demographics, has a high reaction rate then that puts all
          people living in that area to sexually or otherwise be at increased risk of
          contracting HIV or HCV.

          While I don’t know the exact figures, lets look at it this way: If the
          average straight man has 20 sexual partners over 5 years, odds are that he
          has not come into contact with HIV or HCV, straight men are also at the
          second lowest risk of contracting one of these diseases (although higher
          risk than lesbians) due to poor transmission routes. If that same straight
          man lives in an area with a large HIV or HCV outbreak, then there’s a decent
          chance that at least one of those 20 sexual partners is infected. That would
          put him at higher risk, but it’s still a poor route of transmission so the
          risk, while present, is low. For a straight woman in the same situation, her
          risk would be significantly higher in the higher risk area.

          For a gay or bisexual man who has the same number of sexual partners over
          the same time frame and who bottoms (the highest risk due to the most
          effective transmission route), he would be far more likely to be exposed to
          HIV, thus he would be at significantly higher risk.

          When products are given to sick patients, and often immune compromised
          patients, as in the case of patients with Primary
          Immune Immunodeficiency disorders receiving IVIG, they need plasma pooled
          from as many donors as possible to have the greatest variety of antibodies
          in their medicine. The risk of someone in that condition receiving even a
          single HIV virus that has evaded testing and inactivation is unacceptable.
          Every effort must be made to minimize the risk of the patient. Even if
          the eligibility criteria is too strict, it has kept the patents safe. I look
          forward to the day when the statistics change and gay men can donate blood
          or plasma.

          • http://reedbraden.com Reed Braden

            ~”I’m sorry, I wish it didn’t have to be this way, and I really do like you people, but you’re just too unclean of a people to donate blood.  Sorry!”~

            Unacceptable.  Test each donor.

            • Anonymous

              We do test each donor, but we have to reject people at high risk due to the
              risk of a false negative.

              • http://reedbraden.com Reed Braden

                So the fact that your screening technology isn’t as advanced as it should be is an excuse for blanket discrimination of gay men–but not other “risky” groups?

                Sounds like your employers have really gotten into your head.  You really can’t see how this might be a civil rights violation?

                • Anonymous

                  We reject all high risk groups. Men who have sex with men is one of about 10
                  groups. It takes two weeks to four months for some one to have a positive
                  test, that’s not due to the weakness of our testing, that’s just due to the
                  way the human body and viruses work.

                • http://reedbraden.com Reed Braden

                  Other groups based on their race/heredity/sexual identity?

                  Last time I had the questionnaire read to me it said stuff like IV drug users, people who have had sex with Hepatitis patients, people who have used or been prostitutes… what excellent company to lump the gays into!
                  Face it:  Gay men are the only group denied as donors for reasons that aren’t related to drug use, disease (they already ask if you’ve had sex with HIV+ people, so that base is already covered, champ), or medical conditions.

                • Anonymous

                  You are creating a straw man. It’s not about sexual orientation, it’s a
                  matter of engaging or having a history of engaging in behavior that is at
                  high risk for HIV and/or HCV. The correlation is that gay and bisexual men
                  engage in the most effective mode of transmission (anal sex) with the
                  segement of the population who have the highest infection rate.

                  Descrimination is when you are denied a right, such as free speech, being
                  able to marry the person you love, or have equal opportunity for employment.
                  Donating blood, blood componants, or tissue is very different, the partient
                  has a right to not be put at higher risk. That trumps your percieved right.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Macker/518709704 Brian Macker

    ” then should the ban also apply to other groups of people at higher risks of HIV-infection?”

    It does.   I give blood all the time and the questionnaire excludes intravenous drug users, their partners, people who sleep with prostitutes, etc.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Macker/518709704 Brian Macker

    “… then should the ban also apply to other groups of people at higher risks of HIV-infection?”

    It does.  I give blood and the questionnaire is obviously designed to exclude intravenous drug users, their partners, people who use prostitutes, etc.


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