The Rules About Gay Blood Donors Aren't Bigotry

There was lots to be angry about after the Orlando shooting. It's outrageous that the shooter was able to get a gun legally, despite the red flags on his record. It's outrageous that it's so easy to get a gun that can spray a room (including an armed off duty police officer) with bullets in a matter of seconds. It's outrageous that, before the echos of the ambulance sirens died away, we started right in saying horrible things about all gay people, all Muslims, all gun owners.

There are fifty people dead. There is lots to be angry about.

One thing doesn't belong on this list, though, and that's the rules about gay men donating blood. In several places on social media, folks are outraged at the FDA, because the FDA says that men who have had sex with other men within the last year cannot donate blood. "It's just bigotry!" they say. "It's just another way of making gay men be 'the other.' Gay men have as much right to donate blood as anyone else."

Let's untangle these objections.

First, is there some reason other than bigotry to defer blood donations from men who've had sex with other men in the last year?

Certainly. Men who have had sex with other men are, according to the CDC, "more severely affected by HIV than any other group in the United States." They are much more likely to have a transmittable disease than any other group; therefore, their blood is much more likely to transmit disease.

But can't they just screen the blood for HIV? They test all the blood anyway, don't they?

Yes, they do. But there are sometimes false negatives for HIV within the first few weeks or even months of infection. HIV tests look for antibodies, which an infected person does not always immediately begin to produce. If someone is in a group which is at high risk for contracting HIV, he may get tested, turn up negative for HIV, and then give blood, and the blood may be tested, and the blood may turn up negative for HIV—and the disease could still be transmitted. It simply isn't a reasonable risk to take. 

But doesn't everyone have a right to donate blood?

No. Why would they? The whole point of donation is to help other people. I have no more right to donate blood than I have the right to donate food to a food pantry. If the food pantry thinks there's a good chance the food I'm donating may be tainted and unsafe, it would only be prudent for it to refuse the donation. Yes, this is discrimination, and it may make me feel terrible to be rejected, but it's not unjust discrimination. It's simply a prudent decision to make, based on statistics and risk assesment. 

The current guidelines from the FDA are, if anything, not restrictive enough. For instance, they allow transgendered people to self-report what gender they are; so if I were born a male, and then have sex with other males, and then begin to identify as a woman, I can say to the Red Cross, "No, I am not a man who has recently had sex with other men." Good luck with that batch of blood, hemophiliacs. 

Blood donation should never be about the donor. It should be about the safety of the recipients. That's not bigotry, that's just science. 

Note: The purpose of this article is to explain why the FDA's current guidelines are what they are. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies ... must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” Comments that violate this standard of behavior will be deleted without warning.