Blood donation shortages are nothing new in the United States. Early this month, the American Red Cross said that there was a 30 percent shortage for the Easter holiday.
So why are some people being turned away from donating their blood?
Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, believes it is based more on emotion than medicine. He wants to put an end to blood donation discrimination against men who have had any sexual intercourse with other men. The assembly resolution, AJR 13, will urge the federal law to lift the current ban on discriminating against homosexual men from donating blood for the rest of their lives.
About 5 percent, or roughly 15 million people, of the United States population donates blood every year. This is a statistic based solely on the heterosexual population that is permitted to donate blood, because under current Food and Drug Administration policies, which govern regulations for all U.S. blood banks, men who have sex with men are not permitted to donate blood.
According to the FDA website, “Men who have had sex with other men, at any time since 1977 (the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the United States) are currently deferred as blood donors.”
This policy was placed into effect in 1985 because these specific groups of men are at a high risk factor for HIV, according to the FDA.
“This ban assumes if you are heterosexual that you would not have the same exposures [to HIV as homosexuals],” Ammiano said, although he did not offer medical evidence to support his position.
However, he believes that this “gay ban” is still rooted in the HIV-hysteria of the 1980s. He says the prolonged life of the ban is a result of the slow moving bureaucratic process and simply is “the nature of the beast.”
“I understand the hysteria. I lost a lot of friends [to HIV] and still am,” he said. “But, now that this has been documented and disproved, this ban needs to be lifted.”
Supporters of the resolution include the American Red Cross, the American Association for Blood Banks and America’s Blood Centers. These organizations are urging the FDA to accept the amendment of this “rational bill.”
Leslie Botos, Vice President of BloodSource public affairs, said, “[BloodSource] is taking a very neutral position.”
BloodSource, the biggest blood bank in California, has to abide by the federal law established by the FDA. Secondly, blood banks must follow the laws of the European Union because U.S. plasma is processed overseas. While the EU does not ban gay men from giving blood, it does bar those who engage in “high risk” sexual behavior.
The majority of plasma that is donated in the U.S. is sent to Europe for further manufacturing and then sent back to the U.S. to be used for diseases such as hemophilia, multiple sclerosis and lupus, Botos said.
This resolution solely addresses the issue of donations of men who have sex with men. It does not address any bans on users of non-doctor prescribed intravenous drugs. These people are also not permitted to donate blood after a single use, even with a clean bill of health.
“We hope that if change does come about, that it is driven by science,” Botos said.