Prohibiting gays from donating blood

The column on the impact of gay men donating blood discusses the potential risks of widening the donor pool. However, there’s no discussion of the costs of not widening the pool. Are there studies on how many people die because of blood shortages?

For example, if we take the estimates that a 12-month celibacy requirement for MSMs would allow an additional 139,000 donors in the U.S. and Canada, how many of those would be expected to actually donate? How many, if any, lives would be saved with those additional units of blood, and is that more than the estimated one additional case of HIV?

Came here to bring up the exact same point.

I can’t donate blood either, because I had the temerity to live in Europe for five years back in the mid '90s. Apparently, I have mad cow disease now. You’d think symptoms would have showed up by now, but no.

Here is a link to the eligibility requirements from the Red Cross. It is lengthy. I can understand why they don’t want to create an intricate boolean for HIV. See below.

In-Depth Discussion of Variant Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease and Blood Donation:
You are not eligible to donate if:

From January 1, 1980, through December 31, 1996, you spent (visited or lived) a cumulative time of 3 months or more, in the United Kingdom (UK), or
From January 1, 1980, to present, you had a blood transfusion in any country(ies) in the (UK) or France. HIV, AIDS: You should not give blood if you have AIDS or have ever had a positive HIV test, or if you have done something that puts you at risk for becoming infected with HIV.

You are at risk for getting infected if you:

have ever used needles to take drugs, steroids, or anything not prescribed by your doctor
are a male who has had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977
have ever taken money, drugs or other payment for sex since 1977
have had sexual contact in the past 12 months with anyone described above
received clotting factor concentrates for a bleeding disorder such as hemophilia

You should not give blood if you have any of the following conditions that can be signs or symptoms of HIV/AIDS

unexplained weight loss (10 pounds or more in less than 2 months)
night sweats
blue or purple spots in your mouth or skin
white spots or unusual sores in your mouth
lumps in your neck, armpits, or groin, lasting longer than one month
diarrhea that won’t go away
cough that won’t go away and shortness of breath, or
fever higher than 100.5 F lasting more than 10 days.

As for the costs of restricting the donor pool, changes in medical techniques have led to a smaller blood donation industry. Of course that won’t stop spot shortages from appearing from time to time.

“Excuse me, Patrick. Since when does anybody at the University of Chicago have sex?”

Quoted for truth.
– JKellyMap, B.A. Univ. of Chicago, 1992

Same for me.

Seems to me there are a number of ways to adjust those rules without increasing danger… you’d think it’d be worth at least analyzing it.

For instance, if you had male/male sex in 1982 once, decided you didn’t like it and became celibate or only had sex with women since, how does that make you a greater risk than someone who has anal sex with multiple hetero partners?

Wouldn’t a ban going back say 10 years or even 5 or 6 years make more sense than going back 37 years?

As to Europe, that’s just weird. I spent 6 months there in 2000, and I’m not a threat to blood donation, but those who spent 3 months there in 1981 are somehow dangerous?

I can’t speak to the mad cow disease thing. But correct me if I’m wrong: Don’t they have accurate tests now, that tell them if donated blood is tainted with HIV? Furthermore, I once heard from a reliable source (alright, tv) that said HIV is not a concern, if the blood is treated with heat.

What am I missing in this discussion?


If you want a safe blood supply, a layered defense strategy is appropriate. Also, all blood tests have a false negative rate. Also, it takes 2 weeks to 6 months for HIV antibodies to appear in the blood.

Not weird at all. The UK cleaned up its meat supply in the mid 1990s. Before that they fed cow parts to cows, increasing the risk of mad cow disease. Those living in the UK during the 1980s were exposed to that.
Generally speaking, they are pursuing a pristine supply of blood. The effects of loosening restrictions are an empirical issue, one that is complicated by some potential donor’s discomfort and cognitive dissonance regarding homosexuality and infidelity.

In the US, people don’t die from lack of blood, exactly. They may be delayed from getting the optimal type and cross match of blood. They may get an extra bag of saline while someone from the blood bank 80 miles away drives the blood over because the blood bank 20 miles away is out of that type. But while we always need more blood, when we have “shortages”, they are localized ones, and mostly because blood has a limited shelf life and we have to throw it out when it expires.

It’s not (yet) to the point where people are literally and actually dying for lack of blood donations here. This is not true in other countries. But the margin is pretty thin. The US, taken as a whole, has about a 7 day supply of blood banked at any one time.

I don’t want that information to encourage anyone who is allowed to donate to skip it. We really do need all the blood we can get, and if you stop donating, we could very very quickly become one of those countries where people die for lack of blood donations - in about a week, in fact. And every week, some people who used to donate decide not to, or die, or become ineligible to donate, and so we always need new donors to replace them. But so far, we’ve been able to accomplish that without relaxing the standards and widening the donor pool.

I believe Cecil’s article missed a major issue surrounding a focus on ‘confidence’ in the blood supply.

I used to be a regular blood donor. 10+ years ago, I received a notice from the Red Cross saying that I had received a ‘false positive’ result for HIV. Apparently, some 2% or 3% of the tests come back w/ false positives; the blood is retested and, if it comes back negative, it means you don’t actually have HIV. (This freaked me out at the time, but I confirmed with my physician father that it meant I was definitely NOT infected.)

But, that’s not the end of it. Because of the false-positive, I now have a lifetime ban from donating blood? Why? Well, it is NOT because there’s any risk that my blood is infected. Rather, this is a policy in place to ensure ‘confidence’ in the blood supply. So, they know with certainty that I’m not HIV positive, but they are so concerned about people being confident that the blood supply is not tainted that they are willing to pass on blood they know to not be infected.

Seems like a very strange policy to me…

The point here is why take unnecessary chances. If you can meet your needs without widening the pool into risky areas why wouldn’t you. If we could fulfill all the needs for blood donors using only virgin donors then the standard would be tightened even further. We can’t so we set a lower standard and apparently some people are being infected. If we were to lower the standards even further more would likely be infected. Do we really need to start giving people HIV in the name of political correctness?

Where do you get the impression that we’re meeting all our blood needs?

Please note that these are “elective surgeries” - which might mean delaying knee replacements for people in pain, or it might mean butt implants for vanity, the article isn’t saying. We have enough blood to keep people from dying, which is what the OP asked about. We are meeting our blood *needs *- we can’t always meet our blood wants.

A few years back a buddy of mine was of the opinion that gay people shouldn’t be allowed to give blood, so I posited the following scenario:

Your wife needs surgery. There are two good units of blood available, and she needs three. Your choices for the third unit are from:

  1. A guy who had sex with another guy, once, in 1983, he used a condom and has been tested as clean for everything under the sun.

  2. A guy who has had sex with a different woman every Friday and Saturday night for the last 10 years, he’s never used a condom, and he’s never been tested for anything.

My buddy admitted he may have been hasty and chose #1, but I pointed out that it’s a trick question–option #1 is actually not available, but luckily, #2 is perfectly fine.

According to the questions that I used to be asked at Delta Blood Bank, #2 would be disqualified if he’d ever been given drugs in exchange for sex or given drugs in exchange for sex. Also if he’d ever had sex with someone who took injectable (street) drugs. And if he’s picking women randomly, he can’t honestly say no to the second question.

I think a woman who had sex with a man who had sex with another man would also be disqualified. Following the link, it looks like the Red Cross has reduced the time after dental surgery. Or Delta had more stringent rules. They’ve been bought out, at least in our area, by the Red Cross.

Y’all don’t want my somehow cootie-infested queer blood, that’s fine. More blood for me.

Our mileage has obviously varied. They never asked any questions about pure horn-doggedness of donors. All the questions were asked in terms of “that you know of”, so if I had had a one night stand and never saw the woman again, if I didn’t see tracks or paraphernalia and she didn’t mention drugs, I was fine to donate.

The thing that gets me about the weird blood rules is that blood donation rules affect organ donation.

Years ago, my school had a testing drive to try and increase the database for matches for voluntary organ donation. Someone at this school was sick and needed something like a marrow transplant or something like that. There was a big thing about the current list being light on Asians so getting more Asians added to the database might find a match. It was admittedly a long shot, but the other side of the coin was that increasing the database could also save someone else.

Anyway, I went to get blood typed and was denied due to the gay sex thing. It was a horrible experience.

I’ve been known to get snippy at people when they try to guilt me into donating blood.

I don’t agree. We can cancel our elective surgeries. It’s hard to cancel non-elective surgeries. The article states

Inadequate to meet demand, less than a day’s supply, demand increasing faster than supply, shortage during a season when normally there is adequate supply… all of those points support that we should consider our evaluation criteria.

But nice username juxtaposition.