Donating blood becomes political

This is the lead from an article in my local paper. Presumably it’s online somewhere but the local paper’s website doesn’t have it up yet.

FDA relaxes requirements for donated blood

Emergency rules released Wednesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allow donated blood to be taken from blood banks before testing for hepatitis, HIV, syphilis and other diseases is complete.

The article goes on to say that all blood will eventually be tested for STDs and that most tests will be completed within 28 hours. It does note that the decision to relax the rules could be “controversial” but is supported by blood bamk officials.

It has long been an insult to gay men that we are automatically excluded from donating blood if we have had sex even once in the last 23 years. I would like to encourage all HIV negative gay men to donate blood ASAP and then notify the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force of the donation. I’m going to contact NGLTF and suggest they track the number of units of blood donated by gay men in this time of emergency. Maybe if the blood banking establishment sees that thousands or tens of thousands of units of blood come in with no ill effect or threat to the overall blood supply, it will be led to permanently rescind or relax the rule preventing us from engaging in this civic duty.

Considering that they are lowering the standards for the testing of blood it is reasonable to assume that ill effects will happen wether or not gays donate.

Sterra if I understand the OP correctly :

  1. In the past, a verbal screen went on before you could donate. Gay men were excluded if they’d answer ‘yes’ to ‘have you had certain kind of sex w/in the past decade’ (or something to that effect.

  2. then ALL blood taken was screened for various stuffs.

the new proposed rule would be to cease step one, but still do step 2.

Yep, last time I donated blood, they would reject you flat out if you were a man who had had sex with a man anytime since the 70s or so.

Same if you had had a tatoo or piercing within a year, or visited Africa, used IV drugs, and a whole list of other risk factors. If you answered “YES” to any of them, you were automatically turned away.

The point is that no screen can be 100% effective. There will always be a few false negatives. The blanket ban on prohibiting blood from men who have had sex with men simply because that increases the risk factor for HIV several fold.

The blood is screened for all sorts of things anyway, but the idea is to reduce the risk.

Well, damn, I guess they don’t want my blood after all.

And to think, I have all this type O- non-infected blood sloshing around in my veins, just waitin’ to be transfused into whoever needs it. Hope someone doesn’t die because they didn’t get themselves a pint of my blood.


The question is: Have you had sex with another man since 1977?

Or at least that was the question when I worked at a plasma center from 1994-1996.

If I knew the donor was gay and they lied, I let them through. The plasma is tested for every disease under the sun. Donors are ALWAYS needed. Plasma is used to treat burn victims, not to mention hemopheliacs.

I was willing to lose my job over that. Better to do the wrong thing for the right reason, than the right thing for the wrong reason. YMMV.

Are women turned away if they’ve had sex with a man since 1977 too?

'Cause if they’re not, then we’re putting our blood recipients at risk of HIV almost as much as if we didn’t turn away gay men. (Which is to say, a risk so microscopic it’s almost laughable, considering the screening that’s done on the blood itself.) And if they are turned away, then pretty much the only women whom we can take the blood of will be virgins, and that’s starting to sound a little too much like Dracula.

Actually, I think the wording is:

Are you a male who has had sex with another male since 1977, even once?

Also asked:

Have you been given money or drugs for sex since 1977?


Have you had sex with anyone who has been given money or drugs for sex since 1977?

  • Rick

Dare I ask?

Okay, Hastur…how the divvil did you know the donor’s gay?

Here’s a link to the American Red Cross eligibility guidelines. Looks to me like they’ve got both males and females pretty well covered.

So if you’re male, you’re deferred if you have ever had sex with any other male, period, and if you’re female, you’re deferred if you’ve ever had sex with “any person described above in the last 12 months”.

And yes, they do test the blood before they actually put it in somebody.

Well, you can be gay and still donate blood. They don’t ask you how much you want to have sex with men, they only care if you have had sex with men. Of course different men have different risk factors. Some men are at very high risk, others at very low risk.

I believe that 2 or 3 people every year contract HIV from blood transfusions. Now, this is much safer than in the early 80s when thousands of people were infected. But even though the blood is screened, no screen is 100% effective.

It is clear that men who have sex with men are much more likely to be HIV+ than a random sample of the population. Obviously, everyone can be HIV+. But the question is one of risk management. We know that HIV can be transmitted through the blood supply. But we must have blood.

So we have to ask…are the political and social benefits of dropping the ban worth the increased risk?

I would suppose that changing the question “since 1977”, to perhaps “in the last 5 years” is an acceptable compromise, since one might presume that your HIV status would be known by then. And, if a person genuinely and realistically knows themselves to be at very low risk, I don’t have a huge ethical problem with simply lying, as long as you know you are HIV- and don’t engage in risky behaviors (OK, I’ll just come out and say: no anal sex). The Blood Banks can’t/won’t weigh all these risk factors so they just have a blanket rule. If you are sure the blanket prohibition is silly in your particular case then, well…

<<It is clear that men who have sex with men are much more likely to be HIV+ than a random sample of the population. >>

Not necessarily. And I don’t think the question is whether they are likely to be HIV+, it’s whether they are likely to be so and not know it. If they are HIV+ and know it, they won’t donate blood.

Isn’t the fastest growing population of HIV+ people now hetero females between 18 and 24? Shouldn’t they change the blood donor rules at some point?

After all, it makes no sense to not take blood from someone who’s been celibate for almost a year, tested HIV-, and had sex with a bisexual man in their past-- but to take it from someone who’s ignorant of their HIV status, sexually active, and simply trusting their partner to be negative.

But that’s just me being bitter, YMMV.


Well, I think it is legitimate to raise the question of whether, in an overreaction to people getting infected through blood transfusions in like the 80s (this was a particularly big scandal in Canada when I was there) the Red Cross has become too stringent and arbitrary in rejection of donors…which is making it very hard for them to get enough blood. (They currently have a major campaign encouraging blood donors to be “bloodhounds” and find others to come in with them to donate blood. The silver lining of these horrible attacks this week may be a considerable expansion of the pool of blood donors that the Red Cross can contact.)

By the way, it is not only gays that are excluded. Now, because of mad cow disease, you are excluded if you lived in Europe more than 6 months…or Britain more than 3…since like the early 1980s. (And, I think it is the cumulative time too.) Also, I have a colleague at work who is excluded from giving blood because his blood tends to trigger a false positive for some obscure disease which he claims to have looked up and says (probably with only minor exageration) afflicts only female sheepherders in New Guinea; even though a more sensitive retest shows it was a false positive, they don’t want his blood simply because of its tendency to trigger this false positive result.

Anyway, while I agree that one should be questioning whether all these rules are really justified for public health reasons, I don’t think it is okay to lie about it yourself. I.e., I think the way to go about things here is to try to get them to change the rule rather than just deciding that the rule is stupid and you are going to break it. After all, none of us (as far as I know) are public health professionals here.

Well, there’s a difference between “fastest growing” and “most”. If you start from a small sample, then you can be in the “fastest growing” risk group and still be at very low risk.

Women are a fast growing group because they have been at much lower risk than gay males for many years. I imagine that eventually the structure of the epidemic will change as more and more heterosexuals get infected, but for right now of course gay men at at much higher risk than anyone else except IV drug users.

And even when/if straights have higher absolute numbers of cases, gays will still be at higher risk, because they are a smaller % of the population. If gay men make up 5% of the population and 50% of the cases, gay men will have 10 times the risk factor.

But I do agree that the idea is to screen out people who are HIV+ but don’t know it. So, banning donation back to 1977 is kind of silly. If you haven’t had male-male anal sex for a year before your last HIV test then your chance of being infected and not knowing it are probably not much greater than the general population.

But…how much is this issue worth? It is very difficult to estimate the increased risk to the blood supply if we changed the rules, but we have to admit that the risk is not zero.