Friday, February 01, 2008

Gay Blood

1941 6 cent US postage stamp for Giving Blood Saves LivesSan Jose State University President Don Kassing has made a bold and courageous stand for justice. In a recent announcement he suspended campus blood drives because of the government policy that bars gay men from donating blood. In a campus announcement he wrote:

I am writing to inform you of a very difficult decision I have made about blood drives on campus. After extensive consultation, I am suspending all blood drives at San José State University on the grounds that the U.S. Federal Drug Administration’s lifetime blood donor deferral affecting gay men violates our non-discrimination policy. This suspension is effective immediately and applies to blood drives arranged by employees representing the university and/or by recognized student organizations.

A university employee brought this matter to my attention. He referred to the language in San José State University's non-discrimination policy, which says "discrimination of any kind, including … sexual orientation is an affront to the entire university community and is strictly prohibited."

In an effort to resolve this issue, my staff and I consulted many experts and reviewed background material on the FDA Web site. We learned from the FDA that the deferral dates back to 1983, "when the risk of AIDS from transfusion was first recognized." We also learned nucleic acid testing has since greatly reduced the risk HIV/AIDS once posed to blood supply safety. "In fact, our current risks are now so low that they cannot be measured directly and, hence, we rely on [mathematical] models," Jay S. Epstein, M.D., said at a March 2006 FDA Workshop on Behavior-Based Donor Deferrals.

Yet, the FDA remains reluctant to relax the deferral affecting gay men. We agree that more research may be needed given "current scientific data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that, as a group, men who have sex with other men are at a higher risk for transmitting infectious diseases or HIV than are individuals in other risk categories," as stated in the "FDA Policy on Blood Donations from Men Who Have Sex with Other Men."

However, AABB, America's Blood Centers and the American Red Cross -- three organizations that stake their reputations on blood supply safety -- have reviewed the same data and come out in favor of relaxing the deferral. In a joint statement, they said they "believe that the current lifetime deferral for men who have had sex with other men is medically and scientifically unwarranted and recommend that deferral criteria be modified and made comparable with criteria for other groups at increased risk for sexual transmission of transfusion-transmitted infections." The FDA deferral for such groups is 12 months, according to the AABB Full-Length Donor History Questionnaire.

AABB, America's Blood Centers and the American Red Cross also offered their vast resources -- a great many of the nation's blood collection centers -- to assist with any additional research required by the FDA. I am troubled the FDA has not, to our knowledge, made progress with additional research, nor disclosed if and/or when an FDA committee will vote again on the deferral for men who have sex with other men. Meanwhile, the lifetime deferral affecting gay males as a group remains in place when it may be safe and appropriate for these men to be treated individually, as is the case with people of other sexual orientations.

With these concerns in mind, I decided to suspend blood drives on campus and have notified the FDA of our decision. In doing so, our purpose is to respect our policy of non-discrimination and the climate that the policy is intended to create on our campus. I have also asked the FDA to contact me so we can discuss this issue further. Specifically, I’d like to discuss timing for additional studies and the next FDA committee vote on the matter.

I recognize the importance of giving blood and we know that universities are a significant source of blood. Our campus alone accounts for 32,000 students and 5,700 employees. However, lacking further action by the FDA, we are guided by the clear mandates of our non-discrimination policy. Our hope is that the FDA will revisit its deferral policy in a timely manner and we may soon be able to hold blood drives on this campus again.

FDA policy: No donations of gay blood, it is too icky.The Stanford Blood Center has released a statement saying that they are “deeply disappointed” in the university’s decision. They go on to say that “Stanford Blood Center has offered to work collaboratively with SJSU to lobby the FDA” but they don’t say what kind, if any, action they have or will take. They miss the whole point that the guidelines violate the school’s non-discrimination policy.

The FDA policy is ridiculous. I know gay men that lie on the blood bank’s questionnaire because they believe in giving blood. I am sure there are promiscuous, straight men and women that don’t practice safe-sex that give blood too. The current policy is not based on science. It is based on hated, fear and disgust of gay men.

HISTORY: Dr. Charles Richard Drew (1904-1950) was an African-American physician and medical researcher. His research was in the field of blood transfusions, blood storage, and developing large-scale blood banks early in World War II. He protested against the practice of racial segregation in the donation of blood from donors of different races since it lacked scientific foundation.
In 1941 Dr Drew was chosen to lead the American Red Cross blood bank program. The above 1941 “Giving Blood Saves Lives” stamp was part of that campaign. However, a War Department directive stated that, "It is not advisable to indiscriminately mix Caucasian and Negro blood for use in blood transfusions for the U.S. Military". Dr Drew protested against this blood segregation, which has no basis in scientific fact, and as a result was forced to resign his position. The United States Military did not end segregation of its blood supplies until 1949. Politics and bigotry of blood still continues today.


GDad said...

The company where I work, Mega Corporation One, offers a small amount of time off for blood donations. Since I am forbidden from giving blood, I can't take advantage of this benefit.

The company has a non-discrimination policy, but they've decided to offer a separate-but-equal benefit where if I volunteer 20 hours to an organization on an approved list, I can get a day off. I can do that twice per year, but blood donors can get up to three days off per year.

I'm icky, evidently.

Jen said...

I have known about this practice of the blood banks and always thought it was silly since I know so many gay men who lie to give blood, and get an HIV test at the same time, I never thought about it from the perspective of discrimination and I am ashamed I didn't. Props to San Jose State University for taking a firm stand.

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