Home Opinion OPINION: Democrats Discuss ー Discriminatory blood donation policies and gay men

OPINION: Democrats Discuss ー Discriminatory blood donation policies and gay men

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Cody Phillips is a junior studying biology with a minor in chemistry. He is a member of the Ohio University College Democrats. The following article reflects the opinion and views of the author and does not present the thoughts of the Ohio University College Democrats. 

This is a submitted column, and please note that these views and opinions do not reflect those of The New Political. 


In 2015, the United States finally changed its policy on blood donations for men who have sex with men, or MSM. The policy only lifted the indefinite ban and changed it to a one-year deferral period. Does this policy make sense or are there better avenues for maintaining a healthy blood supply without discriminating against gay and bisexual men?

AIDS first made headlines in 1981, and linked the gay community and increased infection rates. During this time panic had swept across the U.S., resulting in fear of the gay community and the idea that only gay men were affected and were therefore “contaminated.”

In the early 1980s, blood banks banned the MSM population from donating blood to prevent blood “contamination.” During the early parts of the AIDS epidemic, blood banks banned MSM donors to protect the blood supply and the blood supply dependent population. In the early parts of the 1980s, the MSM had the highest prevalence of the disease and thus, were banned. Other banned groups included sex workers, transgender people and women who had sexual relations with MSM. 

These policies were also implemented when a hysterical population speculated that HIV could be spread via physical contact or objects. Without knowing the mode of transmission, broad bans were implemented to protect the majority of the population. After the mode of transmission was determined to be blood and blood products, the ban was further upheld.

The FDA reassessed its decision in 2010 and determined it needed more data before a clear decision could be made. After a four-year-long research period, it determined the MSM population had significantly declining rates of HIV infections and decreased infection rates. In 2015, the policy changed to a one-year deferral.

Coupling this with more rapid HIV screenings, the FDA determined that a one-year deferral was more accurate and offered a way for some MSM donations. However, it blatantly disregards monogamous MSM relationships, and it still encompasses a one-year deferral for women that have had sexual relations with MSM. On top of that, it disregards sexual habits such as the use of protection or the number of sexual partners.

Instead of preventing people with “high-risk lifestyles” from donating blood, it instead prevents only gay and bisexual men or those who have come into sexual contact with them from donating blood. 

The idea that gay and bisexual men are contaminated persists, undermining the fact that gay and bisexual men, or women that maintain sexual relations with MSM, can have a healthy lifestyle without HIV but are still unable to donate blood because of their “contamination.”

If the goal of the deferral period of MSM groups, or of any other deferral or ban, is to prevent people with “high-risk lifestyles” from donating blood, then a personalized risk-assessment approach should be adopted to prevent discrimination and to maintain a certain level of quality in the blood supply. 

By developing a criterion that assesses whether an individual person has a higher risk of carrying HIV (or any other bloodborne disease), discrimination based on sexual orientation is reduced, while maintaining a healthy blood supply. 

If the MSM population has a decreasing prevalence of HIV, and if all blood is tested with rapid and accurate tests, then the one-year deferral should be removed and instead replaced with an individualized risk-assessment program.

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