FDA's Updated Blood Donation Ban Still Discriminatory

This week, President Obama’s administration has expressed support for the Food and Drug Administration’s motion to lift a current ban that prevents gay and bisexual men from donating blood. However, the proposed revision does not do much to solve the problem.

In a “half-step” in the right direction, the new policy states that men who have had sex with other men (MSM) within the past year will not be eligible donors.

In some aspects, this revision can be considered a victory. According to The Williams Institute, “A modification of the current blood ban to a 12-month deferral policy will increase the number of eligible donors by over 2 million men.” More donors means more donations, and more donations means more lives saved.

However, this new policy cannot be considered progressive. For one, it does not align with the facts. Only about 1 in every 2 million people have contracted HIV through a blood transfusion. And since donated blood is required to be tested anyway, the chance of this happening is even lower.

The Williams Institute also reported how many more donors there would be if gay and bisexual men were allowed to donate with no restrictions:

Eligible donors:

If ban is lifted: 4.20 million

12-month deferral: 2.16 million

5-year deferral

Likely donors:

If ban is lifted: 0.36 million

12-month deferral: 0.19 million

5-year deferral: 0.17 million

While the 12-month deferral increases the numbers of eligible and likely donors from the 5-year deferral, the lifting of the ban nearly doubles these numbers.

In addition to the statistics, this new provision also continues to discriminate. It does not allow all gay or bisexual men to donate blood only a certain group of them: celibate ones. And as ThinkProgress points out, this revision alarmingly resembles an argument that many conservatives use against homosexuality:

What’s problematic about this illusory relief of discrimination for gay and bi men is that it mirrors exactly how religious conservatives now justify their rejection of homosexuality. Major religious organizations that remain the primary opponents of LGBT equality, like the Southern Baptist Convention, the Catholic Church, and the Mormon Church, have all largely abandoned the belief that sexuality can be changed. Instead, they all now promote chastity and celibacy for people who have same-sex orientations, applying the same shame that homosexuality is a sin with just a lower expectation for what not being gay looks like.

If someone is sexually active, it is likely that they are engaging in sexual activity more than once a year. Therefore, like the beliefs of the conservative religious groups, the FDA is implying that gay and bisexual men can be such but cannot live the same lifestyle as heterosexual men and women.

Many people see this as an attack on a person’s sexual identity, since not all high-risk activities have the same ban. According to Ian Thompson of the American Civil Liberties Union, “Deferral decisions should be based on activities presenting an elevated risk, not on the identity of a person or that person’s partner.” He also believes this new proposal should be “part of an ongoing process,” not the ultimate decision.

Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin agrees, saying, “This is a first step in ending an outdated policy that is medically and scientifically unwarranted, but it doesn’t go far enough.”

It is important to note that the American Medical Association voted to oppose the ban two years ago. According to Dr. William Kobler of the AMA board, “The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science.”

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