Gay Men Can Donate Organs and Blood … Only If Abstinent

Politicians and activists call on the Department of Health and Human Services to update discriminatory policies that prevent gay men from donating organs and blood because of their orientation.

Photo by Shutterstock

By Julissa Catalan


Photo by Shutterstock

More than 60 politicians and LGBT advocates are fighting to revise a very dated federal regulation that disqualifies gay men from donating organs and blood simply because of their orientation.

According to Ian Thompson, a Legislative Representative at the ACLU who focuses on LGBT rights, donating blood or tissue may not be a "constitutional right," but the federal government should not be able to discriminate against a prospective donor based on their orientation.

"In other words, gay and bisexual men cannot constitutionally be singled out for differential treatment solely because of their sexual relationships," Thompson told TakePart. "Eligibility standards must reflect current scientific knowledge and must treat like risks alike."

Currently, gay men face severe restrictions when it comes to donating organs, tissue or blood.

They are allowed to donate certain organs after HIV testing, but the transplant program is notified that the organ comes from a deceased man who had sex with other men in the past year.

They are allowed to donate tissue only if they have not had sex with other men for five years.

They are never allowed to donate blood.

In contrast, a straight man who admits to having sex with a prostitute or knowingly had sex with an HIV-positive woman only has to wait one year before being allowed to donate blood.

"Clearly that is not treating like risk alike," said Thompson.

This policy was first put in place in the 1980s, at the height of the AIDS crisis. More than 30 years later, huge strides have been made in science and medicine, and it is common knowledge that anyone who has unprotected sex is at risk, not just gay men.

Last week, more than 60 U.S. senators and representatives sent a letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services saying the donation policies contained "inherent unfairness and inconsistency." The letter stated that the current policies "perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes" and "promote discrimination" while not adequately representing the advances made in science and HIV detection.

The legislators have requested a response to their letter within 30 days.

They are also pushing for a written update on what the department has done to assess donation regulations, as well as an estimate of when possible policy changes will be announced publicly and take effect.

"You have an administration in place that's committed to moving LGBT equality forward, and they've also done a lot in the area of HIV/AIDS," Thompson says.

According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, there are more than 123,000 people who are on the national waiting list for lifesaving organs. Most of these individuals are waiting for kidneys, with livers, hearts and lungs also high on the list.

In addition, more than 1 million tissue transplants are performed every year, while more than 41,000 blood transfusions are needed every day.

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