A 1983 Food and Drug Administration regulation, made at the height of the AIDS epidemic when very little was known about the disease, permanently banned men who have had sex with other men from donating blood because the organization considers this a high-risk behavior for transferring HIV. Consequently, blood centers across the United States do not allow gay men to donate blood and blood products, such as blood platelets, blood plasma and other human blood clotting agents.
“It is the policy of the FDA and we are regulated by the FDA,” said Alecia Lipton, a public relations representative for Hoxworth. The organization must comply with all of the FDA’s regulations to be a licensed blood center. Without this licensing, Hoxworth would not be able to supply blood and blood products to patients and hospitals.
While Hoxworth must comply with the regulation to function, the organization has championed its stance against the ban on gay men’s blood donations since 1997, joining forces with the American Red Cross and America’s Blood Centers to remove the policy.
Once blood is collected, it is tested for a myriad of reasons, detecting such things as HIV, syphilis and hepatitis. An individual’s blood that tests positive for illnesses such as these is deferred and a notice is mailed to the donor. The donor must then call the blood center for the reason why their blood was deferred.
When tests such as these are in place to ensure that no HIV positive blood is passed on to recipients, why ban gay men from donating? Most gay men are not HIV positive, and anyone who wants to donate blood should not be denied because of their sexual identity.
The questions donors are asked before their blood is drawn are basically answered on the honor system anyway. While the technician may test iron levels by pricking a donor’s finger, there is no homosexual test. A gay man could still donate as long as he says no to the question that asks if he has had sex with other men.
And while 47 percent of new HIV cases are a result of male-to-male sexual content, 44 percent of people with AIDS are black, according to AVERT, an international AIDS charity. Along the FDA’s reasoning, black people should also not be allowed to donate for fear they are HIV positive.
People who are intravenous drug users are also not allowed to donate blood, as the practice accounts for 22 percent of new HIV/AIDS cases. But high-risk heterosexual contact (unprotected sexual contact between a man and a woman), accounts for 24 percent of new HIV/AIDS cases.
The News Record reported in a Jan. 11 article titled “Hoxworth Center thirsty for more,” that the blood center is not meeting the demand for blood. So why deny someone who could potentially save a life by donating blood the ability to do so? Anyone who donates could potentially have HIV/AIDS, that is why all blood donations are tested.
Individuals who wish to leave the FDA comments regarding this policy should call 800-835-4709.