Blood shortages in the summer months are nothing new. With many people taking vacations and spending more time outdoors, heading to your local blood drive is usually not high on people’s priority list. But, this summer, the American Red Cross is reporting the shortage of blood is “critical” and at the lowest level in 15 years.
Sadly, when I hear this, it goes in one ear and out the other. There is nothing I can do about. That is someone else’s problem. It only becomes my problem if I’m in an accident or I need emergency surgery!
You’re probably thinking right now that comments like that are not characteristically the way Anthony thinks or talks. It’s not. I wanted to get your attention and raise awareness to a problem with the system since I’m always willing to help out my fellow-man, woman, and child.
As a college student back in the early-1980s at Murray State University, I donated blood every time they had a blood drive at the Curris Center. In my hometown of Mayfield, Kentucky, during the summer months when I wasn’t in school, I’d donate blood at a local church. Those peanut butter and crackers and orange juice tasted so much better knowing I was doing something good.
That all changed in 1985.
While I had been giving blood for years, it was then that the American Red Cross started asking questions like “From 1977 to the present, have you had sexual contact with another male, even once?”. Effectively, that banned men who had sex with other men (MSM) from donating. It didn’t matter if you were gay, bisexual, or a closet case, your blood wasn’t welcomed or wanted. I could have lied and kept giving blood, but I stopped donating.
At the time, I fully understood the ban. There were too many unanswered questions and so much that we didn’t know about AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) and HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Infection). The country and the world was rightfully scared of this new disease that was sickening and killing gay men at an alarming rate.
The unknown led to fear and the American Red Cross and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration were under more pressure than ever to make the blood supply safer since tainted blood led to more infections of people outside of the gay community. That led to more fear and uncertainty.
That was almost 30 years ago and we now know how people contract HIV. We have medications that can give those living with HIV and AIDS a “normal” long life and contracting the disease is no longer considered “a death sentence”. We now even have tests that you can do at home to find out if you’re HIV-positive.
We’re no longer in the dark ages of blood testing for HIV, AIDS, or hepatitis.
That is the reason that many in the medical field are calling for the ban on MSM to be lifted. Advocates call the ban “homophobic” while others want a lifelong ban for MSM.
While it’s true that the HIV infection rate is higher in the MSM community, the numbers of heterosexual men and women and minorities contracting HIV is on the rise.
This ban is no longer a gay issue and with the advancements made in blood testing, all Americans should be able to give blood if they are HIV-negative, regardless of their sexual orientation. Finish listening to my logic before you hit reply and argue with me!
Why is okay for a prostitute to give blood if she didn’t admit to her profession or know the sexual backgrounds of the men that she slept with? Why is okay for a co-ed who might have sex with many fraternity guys to donate blood as long as she doesn’t know that they’re gay, bisexual, or that they may have experimented with men.
Yet, it’s not okay for a man to admit that he’s had sex with another man and donate blood?
That is why many countries like Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Hungary, Japan, Sweden, and parts of the United Kingdom, have now implemented new rules that allow MSM to donate blood if they haven’t had MSM relationships in the past year.
The American Red Cross and several other blood groups have asked the FDA to change its policies, but it denied making changes as recently as two years ago.
Proper testing of the blood can keep our blood supply in America safe and with the shortages in place, we never know when a major catastrophe will deplete the blood supply even more.
With the knowledge and the scientific advancements in the medical field, let’s stop this “don’t ask, don’t tell”-like policy in blood donations.