To lie or not to lie

I could save someone’s life by telling a lie.

All I have to do is say “No” to one little question about whether I’ve had sex with another man, and I’d be able to donate blood or bone marrow and potentially keep some stranger from dying. If I answer honestly, I’ll be placed on a lifetime deferral list which prevents me from trying again in the future.

Due to a ban enacted in 1985 by the US Food and Drug Administration, any male that has had sex with another male since 1977 is prohibited from donating blood or bone marrow. The argument is that these men are at a much higher risk of contracting HIV and pose a hazard to potential recipients.

gays_blood_red_crossThis policy is blatantly homophobic, since donated blood is automatically screened for HIV and other pathogens. The sexuality of the donor should never even come into play. After all, how is it possible that a monogamous homosexual is more of a health threat than a promiscuous heterosexual? Regardless of the insanity of the provision, it was upheld when it came up for review in May of this year.

After hearing of a recent bone marrow drive in a nearby city, I did some research online and learned that 70% of patients that need bone marrow transplants die before ever finding a match. Guess what happens when a gay man offers to donate a rare blood type:

The patient in need would continue to wait for another suitable match, risking death. Unfortunately, the patient is not informed if a gay donor has been found and does not have the opportunity to decide if they are willing to accept the health risk. (Source)

As opposed as I am to lying, I realize that doing so could enable something very important. I’m just not sure it’s worth denying a huge part of myself simply because my government doesn’t think my blood is good enough to help a dying person. It seems that I would be giving away much more than the “gift of life.”

Author: Brian

Blogger. Bookworm. Michael Jackson fanatic. Lives in Kentucky with partner of 11 years and three fabulous felines.

20 thoughts on “To lie or not to lie”

  1. This is an interesting thought and I agree that it’s an outdated policy.

    However, there was recently a case in Chicago where several people receiving transplants contracted HIV and Hep C from their donor organs. What happened is that the donor had not converted and therefore wasn’t testing positive at the time of death. The donor’s sex wasn’t revealed, nor was his or her sexual preference.

    I think this is probably going to change the way donations of all kinds are done. Lightening striking not once but four times, huh…wow.

    Here’s a link on that case, by the way:

  2. I agree it is senseless and bigoted, but, unfortunately, not surprising. I see you are endorsing John Edwards. I think he is a good choice. He is intelligent and compassionate and seems truly committed to making things better for all Americans no matter how much money they have.

  3. @ Caroline: That’s really scary and sad. It’s a shame that there aren’t better safeguards against that type of thing. I know that an infection doesn’t always show up immediately, which is why clinics recommend that people get a repeat HIV test six months after exposure.

    @ randomyriad: Edwards does seem to have a genuine concern for the poor, which is a big change from the current administration.

  4. @Jersey-We do, but they aren’t sensitive enough to detect the virus if it’s been less than (I think) 22 days since infection. I imagine the most recent event will spur some research into the issue, though.

  5. @ Caroline: I thought we had blood tests and such to prevent this kind of thing from happening?

    As soon as baby is born, I’ll go donate plasma at least; my family REALLY needs the money.

  6. @ Jersey & Caroline: The article that Caroline put in her first comment says that there is a more sensitive test that wasn’t performed in this case. Maybe that will become the standard procedure.

  7. This does seem really homophobic. I can’t donate blood, so I’ve never seen the legal forms or anything, but do they ask all people if they’ve had sex with an intravenous drug user? Because what’s stopping them from lying? And even if they believe none of their sex partners have ever used heroin or whatever, how do they really know? This current line of questioning seems kind of antiquated, and not very good.

  8. You make my brain hurt, Brian. It’s a great question. Tom said that if he was gay, and he had a friend or family member who needed a donation, he’d lie. Otherwise, he’d be truthful. I hate policies that make no sense. Who do you write to get this re-evaluated?

  9. @ Wendy: They do ask several questions in an attempt to weed out high-risk donors. My gripe is that they are automatically grouping all homosexual into a lump category, regardless of their behavior.

    @ MBMQ: I think Tom has the right idea. Here’s an online petition that already has over 2,000 signatures (even though their goal was only 1,000).

    Honestly, though, it probably won’t have nearly the effect of writing your senator.

  10. This is a pet peeve of mine that I’ve harped on before.

    It’s based on old science and outdated opinions. Hardly the way to run a life-saving organization. It basically assumes that all gay men are either drug users, promiscuous, or both. And it pisses me off. Pardon the french.

  11. What the hell? This has got to be the stupidest law ever. I mean, they’re saying that all gay people carry disease. I can’t believe that a “civilized” country still thinks this way. If I ever needed blood/organs/etc., I’d much rather get it from a monogamous gay man than from a promiscuous straight man/woman. It’s just the common risk factor there.

  12. The rules regarding blood donation makes it easy to see why there is always a shortage.

    I have had one experience trying to donate, and it wasn’t good. The bloodmobile was at my church, and we were encouraged to go and attempt to donate, even if we knew we couldn’t give, because it would look good if alot of people made the effort. My son was a few weeks old at the time. We went to the church and there was no line, so I signed in, completely ignoring the hundred page 3 ring binder of information that was on the table. I went up to one of the ladies and sat down. She asked how old my baby was, and I told her. She said, rather smartly, “you can’t donate that close to giving birth, IF you would’ve read the information on the table, you would’ve known that”.

    Her attitude completely turned me off of attempting to donate blood. She wasn’t busy, so there was no need for her to be so hateful. Even though that was 5 years ago, I haven’t tried to donate since.

    BTW, my husband can’t donate either because he spent time in Europe 20 years ago, which puts him at risk for being a carrier of mad cow disease. LOL. I’m being serious, you can’t make this stuff up.

  13. I donated a couple years ago and they had an electronic questionnaire thingy that asks all kinds of very personal questions. I passed out right after donating and they said that I had a seizure, but I don’t think that I did…I was only out for a few seconds (I didn’t even spill the sierra mist they gave me to drink). But because of that, I’m barred from donating again. That’s just at Lifeblood, though. I think I’d still be able to donate to Red Cross or some other organization…I’ve been thinking about it lately, since it’s been almost 2 years since I got a tattoo (you have to wait 1 year for tattoos and 6 months for any piercings).

    I agree though, the rules they have do seem rather outdated, especially since they run those tests anyway. Like Brian said, hopefully the more sensitive test will become standard procedure now that something bad has happened.

  14. @ Jamie: Great article! This thing pisses me off, too.

    @ Mitsu: I agree. I don’t think I’d be picky about who the organ was coming from if I was on one of those transplant lists, as long as it had been thoroughly tested.

    @ Alyson: If that woman was that angry, you should be thankful that she didn’t come at you with a needle! And Mad Cow? OMG!

    @ Ashley: That’s interesting about the tattoos and piercings. I don’t have a problem with the personal questions, as they are an important part of the screening process, but I do have a big problem with banning an entire group of people.

  15. My friends and I have been discussing this topic for some time now. We feel that if Universities (who host blood drives) boycotted the Red Cross in the name of changing that policy, they may take notice.

  16. It’s very easy to perceive this as homophobia/discrimination/whatever.

    But, as recently as 2005, HALF the US HIV transmissions were still among gay men. HALF. Check out the CDC reports. I did the last time this issue came up in another blog I follow. See

    Until the gay community, of which I am one, cleans up their act, there is a very justifiable reason for this “discrimination”. And, sad to say, risky behavior is on the RISE.

  17. @ Sunny: Thanks!

    @ Mario: As Jamie stated in the post that he linked to above, HIV rates are also very high among blacks. How do you think banning a race of people from donating blood would go over? Not well, I’d say.

    All gay people are not putting themselves at risk of contracting HIV, yet all of us are being lumped into one category. I believe people should be screened for risky behavior, not sexuality.

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