A new law in the United Kingdom has partially lifted the ban on gay blood donations. Gay men may now donate blood; however, men who have had anal or oral sex with other men, abbreviated as MSM, within the past year are still ineligible to donate.
The new policy was based on a scientific review this September by England’s Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO). The British subcommittee had been looking into the policy since 2006.
Furthermore, compliance to the previous law also suggested a call for policy reform. Eleven percent of men who have had sex with men in the U.K. gave blood despite the 1985-enacted ban, according to SaBTO. Improvements in contamination testing as well as the latest evidence on infection risks have found that MSM blood, under the one-year abstinence period, poses no significant risk of infection.
The new policy provides a unique opportunity for Davisites to reflect on existing blood donation policies in America and their ramifications on men who have sex with men.
It may be worth pointing out that some men who have sex with men do not identify as gay.
BloodSource, a California blood donation organization, is part of a association of blood donation receivers called America’s Blood Centers, who in 2010 made a joint statement with the American Red Cross and the American Association of Blood Banks calling for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to amend the indefinite deferral to a 12-month one.
“The policy now alienates a large number of otherwise willing donors, unless these individuals choose to lie about their sexual history,” said Cameron Osborne, president of Delta Lambda Phi, the UC Davis progressive, gay and bisexual interest fraternity, in an e-mail. “In events such as the recent Causeway Classic, many of my brothers were unable to contribute to the blood drive.”
The FDA has not changed its views since the ban was implemented.
“Men who have had sex with men account for the largest single group of blood donors who are found HIV positive by blood donor testing,” the FDA stated on its website.
Elizabeth Krause, assistant director at the UC Davis Lesbian Gay
Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center, believes there are other
methods of identifying risks of contraction.
“I feel like if the questions that the FDA used more narrowly focused on high risk behaviors, such as having sex without using any kind of protection (i.e. condoms/barriers), that would be more helpful information about risk of contraction, and NOT target people based on their identities,” Krause said.
If a man has had sex with another man since 1977, he is ineligible to donate blood in the United States. But if a man has had sex with another man prior to 1977, he can still donate blood.
Some residents of UC Davis Student Housing in the past had faced uncomfortable pressure when confronted with this restriction, said Chuck Huneke, UC Davis Student Housing assistant director.
Residents who wanted to maintain the privacy of their sexual orientation ultimately had an obligation to lie, said Andrew Wells, Student Housing conduct coordinator.
“To avoid being solicited, residents either had to say ‘No, I don’t want to’ or ‘No, I can’t,” Wells said.
It is important to emphasize that the MSM controversy is one of practice and not of sexual orientation.
The inability to donate blood lumps ineligible donors among those that are underweight or have a low iron content. But it also lumps them among solicitors of sex workers, people who have syphilis, hepatitis or HIV.
In response to these resident complaints, authorities at Student Housing made a decision not to allow blood donation sites to occur on its properties. Now, blood donation sites continue to take place only on open campus locations such as Freeborn Hall or at the mobile centers, which had most recently been parked along the West Quad.
At these central campus locations, the pressure to out oneself is not as high as directly outside one’s residence hall.
Other college campuses have made more aggressive responses. In 2008, San José State University suspended all blood drives on campus, an action which elicited mixed reviews.
Some studies have shown that allowing MSM blood donations would increase supply. A 2010 UCLA study at the Williams Institute indicated that allowing these donations could add more than 200,000 pints per year to the nation’s blood supply. For now, the FDA has signaled no indication that any further change will occur.
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