I would like to talk about a topic that some might find to be a squeamish matter: donating blood. Because there is a constant demand for blood, I think donating is important because it, quite literally, is a life-saving act that is relatively quick and painless. Since my first donation when I was seventeen years-old, I have donated at least four times a year.
If you have ever given blood, you know of the long list of questions asked in the personal interview before donating: have you received a blood transfusion within the past year, have you taken aspirin within the last forty-eight hours, etc. The reasoning behind these questions is to limit the donations or prevent individuals that are considered a risk to the blood supply from donating. There is one question that makes me cringe every time because of the personal nature of the subject matter: have you ever had sexual contact of any kind with another man since 1977.
This question can determine whether or not I, or any other man, can donate blood, regardless of identity. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) men who have had sexual contact with other men are restricted from donating blood because “male-to-male sex is associated with an increased risk for the presence of and transmission of certain infectious diseases [like] HIV”. This policy dates back to 1983, in the wake of the AIDS epidemic, a time when detection testing was not as accurate as today.
I believe in the need to ensure a safe blood supply and also that this policy serves as a blanket that prevents men without HIV, and other infections, from donating blood. Because of advances in technology that can more accurately and quickly detect infection, and the continuing high demand on the blood supply, I believe that this policy should be reviewed and replaced with new rules that continue to provide for a safe blood supply while also allowing those men without infection and who want to give their blood to donate.
At the time of my first donation, I was able to answer that question with “No”. If asked again today, I would have to answer “Yes” and even though I do not have any infections that “Yes” would prevent me from donating blood. I hope that someday soon this policy is changed to allow others and I to donate blood, to save lives.