Members of Congress are rightly telling the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to end the 30 year-old ban on blood donations from homosexual men. Though men who have sex with men do make up the majority of new HIV infections, not all gay men are at risk for the disease, and the ban discriminates.
The American Medical Association has called the policy, adopted during the height of the AIDS scare in 1983, outdated, and its board voted in June to oppose it. “The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science,” AMA board member William Kobler said in a statement. “This new policy urges a federal policy change to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone.”
In 2010, the most recent year data are available, 25 percent of new HIV infections were among heterosexuals. African-Americans are disproportionately affected by the virus, and accounted for 44 percent of new infections. Hispanics accounted for 21 percent. Yet the FDA doesn’t ban blood donations based on race or ethnicity. Sexual orientation should be no different.
Blood donations are routinely tested for HIV and AIDS, along with hepatitis, West Nile Virus and other contagious diseases. According to the FDA’s website, roughly one of 2 million blood transfusions results in an HIV infection.
It is the testing that prevents transmission of disease, however, not banning certain individuals from donating. Not everyone tells the truth on the donation questionnaire. Will everyone who has “had sexual contact with a prostitute or anyone else who takes money or drugs or other payment for sex” admit it? Not everyone even knows the truth. Some people who have “used needles to take drugs or steroids, or anything not prescribed by their doctor” aren’t going to tell their sex partner.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and a bipartisan group of 86 other lawmakers asked the FDA to end the ban after one of the senator’s constituents was denied the opportunity to give blood for the Boston Marathon bombing victims because he is gay. “For me,” Sen. Warren wrote on her website, “this has been a basic issue of fairness and of science. Blood donation policies should be grounded in science, not ugly and inaccurate stereotypes.”
Indeed. The goal should be to encourage more people to give blood, not fewer.
for The Post Editorial Board