The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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FDA’s policy prohibing gay men from donating blood is discriminatory

The FDA has a policy that men who have had sex with other men since the start of the AIDS epidemic in 1977 are not allowed to donate blood.

This policy is unfair and discriminatory because it bans even those men who practice safe sex, have had only a few partners, or are currently in a monogamous relationship.

According to the FDA’s website “A history of male-to-male sex is associated with an increased risk for the presence of and transmission of certain infectious diseases, including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.”

“FDA’s policy is intended to protect all people who receive blood transfusions from an increased risk of exposure to potentially infected blood and blood products.”

The CDC lists an estimated 37,164 cases of HIV/AIDS in 2005, with 49% transmitted exclusively by male-to-male sexual contact and 32% from high-risk heterosexual contact.

For the same year out of 37,074 cases 48% of the people were black, 31% were white, 18% were Hispanic, and 1% were Asian or Pacific Islander.

The difference in the number of cases between male-to-male and heterosexual behavior is the same as the difference between black people and white people, but I somehow doubt that people would accept the FDA banning black people from donating blood.

If men who have sex with other men are “as a group, at increased risk for HIV” as the FDA says, then so are black people. So why is it okay to discriminate based on sexuality and not race?

Other than men engaged in same-sex sexual activity, other groups banned from donating blood because of an increased risk of HIV include intravenous drug users and prostitutes.

The risk for intravenous drug users lies in the risk of sharing needles or using unclean needles to shoot up and prostitutes have sex with large numbers of people, sometimes without condoms, and many are also addicted to drugs.

While these two groups obviously engage in high-risk behavior, it is not comparable to saying any man who has had sex with another man in the last 31 years should be included in the same high-risk group.

At the end of the “free love” period and the start of the AIDS crisis many gay men were having intercourse without protection because they did not have to worry about pregnancy or serious, life-threatening STDs.

Previously STDs had been known as venereal diseases, and included only the curable bacterial infections Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.

Anal sex is considered high-risk behavior by the CDC for both men and women, in part because the thin lining of the rectum may make it easier for HIV to enter the body.

HIV can also enter the inserted penis through the urethra, small cuts or open sores on the penis.

Ultimately, as with other STDs, the risk of contracting HIV depends on whether or not people engage in safe sex practices, not whether or not the partners are both the same sex.

A man having unprotected sex with another man is no more likely to get HIV than a man having unprotected sex with a woman.

Not all men who have sex with other men are automatically more likely to be infected with HIV so deferring all of these men is unfair.

The FDA claims that “it is estimated that the HIV risk from a unit of blood has been reduced to about 1 per 2 million in the USA,” so in order to further reduce the risk of transmission donors can be rejected for certain “risky” behaviors such as engaging in male-to-male sex.

The FDA is careful to steer clear of terms like “gay” and “homosexual,” strictly referring to them as “men who have sex with other men,” in their biased policy which has been in place since 1983 and was updated in 1992.

The FDA recognizes that their ban will turn away many healthy donors but say the “FDA would change this policy only if supported by scientific data showing that a change in policy would not present a significant and preventable risk to blood recipients.”

“Scientific evidence has not yet been provided to the FDA that shows that blood donated by MSM or a subgroup of these potential donors is as safe as blood from currently accepted donors,” the website reads.

While some other groups are also at a higher risk of HIV/AIDS infection they are not turned away while men who have sex with men are still lumped into the category of being unsafe donors, along with prostitutes and drug users.

The outdated policy is clearly discriminatory and targets a group of people unfairly despite the fact that a man who uses a latex condom while having sex with another man is less likely to contract and later spread HIV than a man who has unprotected sex with a woman.

Instead of targeting men who have sex with other men as an unsafe group, it would make more sense to eliminate donors, both male and female, who have recently had unprotected sex.

The people most at risk for transmitting HIV to others are those during the first three to six months of infection, considered the “window period,” before the person who has been infected with HIV reacts to the virus by creating HIV antibodies.

“During the window period, people infected with HIV have no antibodies in their blood that can be detected by an HIV test, even though the person may already have high levels of HIV in their blood, sexual fluids, or breast milk,” according to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

Even though HIV may not be detected during the window period it can be transmitted during that time because it is when many people are most infectious.

To be more fair the FDA could adopt a new policy requiring men who have had sex with other men to provide a recent, negative HIV test and defer anyone who has had unprotected sex in the last six months.

While this new policy would eliminate those truly at risk it would no longer alienate an entire group of people and would enable men, whether their partner was male or female, to donate blood which could end up saving lives.

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