Gay Men May Soon Gain the Right to Give Blood

By Andrew Moseman | June 11, 2010 11:02 am

blooddriveBlood donation is fraught with arcane restrictions and a mess of complex requirements meant to keep the blood supply as safe as possible (I can’t give, for instance, because I lived in England in the early 1990s. Thanks a lot, mad cow scare.) But one of its most controversial—a lifetime ban on donation by men who’ve had sex with other men—may finally be coming to an end.

Massachusetts lawmakers like Senator John Kerry are pushing an overturn of the ban. The Red Cross, American Medical Association, and American Association of Blood Banks all want the lifetime ban to go away, though the Red Cross supports in its stead a single-year donation ban dating back to the last sexual encounter.

The lifetime ban was enacted in 1983 before AIDS was widely understood and has long infuriated gay rights groups since it applies to all gay men regardless of their HIV status. Heterosexuals who engage in risky behavior, like having sex with prostitutes or HIV-positive partners, are only banned from giving blood for a year [Boston Globe].

Besides the ugly unfairness of that arrangement, there’s the fact that HIV testing now allows for the detection of infection just weeks after it happens, and everybody who donates blood is screened.

Dr. Norbert Gilmore, an AIDS clinician, says the first priority for medical officials has to be keeping the trust of Americans in the blood donation system. But we can do that and still get rid of rules that reflect the AIDS panic of the 1980s and not modern scientific advances.

“With the technology we have, the risks are so small that keeping this ban in place is like permanently grounding the entire aviation system because we’re afraid that eventually we might have a single crash,” he said [BusinessWeek].

The Department of Health and Human Services is considering the change. If the agency decides to ax the lifetime ban, the change would have to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. UCLA research (pdf) found that going to a one-year ban instead of a lifetime one would bring in 90,000 more pints of blood every year; demolishing any ban based on sexual orientation, meanwhile, could bring in 210,000.

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Image: flickr / crispichikin

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Ellen K.

    There are adults who’ve never been sexually active. A definite minority, but not unheard of. I do agree the end on the ban is a good thing. But I’m disappointed that your article equals sexual activity with sexual orientation.

  • James E

    @1 Ellen K.
    I think what he is trying to say is that they want to change the ban to “you are banned for one year if you have had sex with a same sex partner” instead of a life time ban. not you are banned if you have had sex in the past year.

  • JJ

    “The Red Cross, American Medical Association, and American Association of Blood Banks all want the lifetime ban to go away, though the Red Cross supports in its stead a single-year donation ban dating back to the last sexual encounter.”

    So, this means that a gay guy has to not have sex for a year before they can donate blood? Doesn’t make a shred of sense, might as well be a lifetime ban…

  • ranggaw0636

    I don’t even know they have this kind of rule LOL

  • cgray

    Why not just change the name to “Democrat Discover magazine”? I certainly don’t want the blood of some disgusting gay pervert, and that’s exactly what gays are–perverts. Homosexuality is nothing more than deviant sexual behavior, and should be treated as such. No pervert deserves special treatment. P.S.– You sicko Democrats lost–9 to 6. Ha.

  • Albert Bakker

    Dear #5 that’s just the point: no special treatment. Not for you, not for them.

    Many married overtly heterosexual men have sex with other men. For some, not really well understood reason especially respectable Republican men, even those publicly well known for promoting somewhat orthodox Christian (and) “family values” seem to get caught disproportionally often. To be fair, maybe that is just a feature of the glaring hypocrisy than anything else. In any case many are slipping through the nets and go on with their happy lives with wife and kids and dangerous hobby.

    Now my question dear mr. cgray (for some reason I suspect you are male) if in your ideal world openly gay people are excluded and someday – I hope not – are going to need blood (I’m even going to grant you the choice between Rep and Dem blood in this hypothetical scheme) how are you going to know you won’t get secretly perverse blood?

    Maybe then you should you opt for shock just to be on the safe side.

  • JJ

    cgray, I’m certainly not a Democrat (I’m Libertarian), and I don’t have a problem with lifting this ban. Although, having a set time frame is a good idea, but 1 year since the last encounter seems unrealistic. How is being gay perverted by the way? My aunt and cousin are lesbians; and 2 of my friends are gay, they’re hardly perverted. In my experience, straight folks are more perverted, especially those “red-necks”.

    However, I will agree with you on the point that Discover blogs have been very much left-wing lately, or at least anti-Republican. I’d rather not see such politics meshed into a science blog, but the bloggers have the right to post what they want on their blogs. If you don’t like it, don’t read it.

  • sanud002

    I can’t believe there is even a rule against this. At least it is on it’s way to not being anymore.

  • Hyoscine


    Conservative heterosexual here, earnestly hoping you bleed to death sometime soon.

  • onetokenhetero

    how is it possible that in this modern age of technology, innovation, and information, anyone with an internet connection and the ability to read remains ignorant to simple scientific truth? blood is not capable of being perverse in its own right. furthermore, if you honestly believe that homosexual tendencies are such a scourge and weight upon humanity, you might start supporting your beliefs by examining the lives of your most popular political pundits and deciding for yourself whether or not they are any kind of reliable source. tenacity and perseverance are so different from stubborn closedmindedness. so many lives could be saved if you just faced the truth. what makes you think you are so special, to be able to choose who saves lives? what kind of f***ed-up thinking leads to the conclusion that only heterosexuals are worthy of this? there is nothing physically different between homos and heteros. you’re not gonna catch the gay from a transfusion.

    the middle ages were a long time ago. you should really consider bringing your morals up to date.

    [Moderator’s note: Edited the cuss word.]

  • scribbler

    The science is that AIDS is transmitted by blood…

    Should people be prejudiced against AIDS infected blood?

    I think they should…

  • JJ

    …and not just AIDS, hepatitis is a problem too.


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