Last summer in the United Kingdom, Dij Bentley’s mother died from acute myeloid leukemia. Prior to her death, she developed an infection that required a blood transfusion. Family and friends were asked to donate blood in hope they would be a match.
Wanting to help his dying mother, Bentley tried to donate blood but was turned down because he is gay, even though his mother acknowledged in a waiver that she was aware of the risks. Denied the transfusion, she died 10 days later from an infection.
“My eyes have been opened to this since my mum died. Maybe gay men do have a right to give blood if they want to. Certainly for me, who was in a monogamous relationship, I think it would have been acceptable in these circumstances.”
Here in the United States, gay men have not been able to legally donate blood since 1985 because of a policy that was instituted by our government in the earliest, most fearful days of the AIDS epidemic. When so little was known about the disease, reactionary officials instituted the ban as a way to ensure the nation's blood supply would remain “clean.”
In the past 25 years due to education and modern science, we now know much more about the spread of HIV than we did back then. Truly, this ban is unnecessary and outdated. Donated blood is screened thoroughly between the time it’s donated and when it’s used for medical procedures. Technology easily helps us catch any tainted blood before it can be given to someone in need.
But equally important to note is the demographical statistics have changed of people who are living with AIDS in America and as of this time there is no longer any specific scientific or logical reason to ban gay blood donors.
Even the three major U.S. blood donation agencies — the American Red Cross, the American Association for Blood Banks, and America’s Blood Centers — have found that the lifetime blood donation ban on men who have had sex with men “is medically and scientifically unwarranted."
Now the ban makes no sense. In the most recent data, African-American and Hispanic communities were disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS in America. Despite their smaller share of the general population, more African-American people have been diagnosed with AIDS than white people, and they are far more likely to be diagnosed with HIV and AIDS.
During 2007, 50 percent of all new HIV diagnoses and 42 percent of new AIDS diagnoses were in African-Americans, although they only comprise around 13 percent of the general population. Also, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that currently 44 percent of Americans living with AIDS are African-American. But there is no ban on African-Americans giving blood and there never will be because it would not be seen as politically correct.
Banning gay men from donating blood is not preventing HIV transmission; it's just fostering stigmatization, discrimination and stupidity. All of this comes at a time when blood supplies continue to dip to dangerously low levels.
Italy and Spain have intelligently replaced their bans on gay blood donation with a ban on anyone gay or straight who has unsafe sex. Even Russia has repealed a six-year ban on gay blood donors. And it is now time that other nations, the United States and the United Kingdom included, follow suit. Not only for the greater good of public health, but also for equality and fairness.