It’s bad enough that
gay people men who have sex with men are forbidden from donating blood because of a decades-old antiquated policy that began because we didn’t have tests to check the blood for HIV. Now that those tests exist, even if they’re not perfect, it’s hard to argue that the policy should be kept in place. Or, if it is kept in place for the purpose of preventing HIV from getting into the blood supply, then should the ban also apply to other groups of people at higher risks of HIV-infection?
But in Gary, Indiana, they’re going a step beyond that — they’re stopping you from donating if you simply look gay:
Aaron Pace is admittedly and noticeably effeminate, but he says he’s not homosexual.
Still, his looks, character and behavior prompted a blood donation center to reject him when he tried to donate blood recently and he’s miffed, to say the least.
“I was humiliated and embarrassed,” said Pace, 22. of Gary. “It’s not right that homeless people can give blood but homosexuals can’t. And I’m not even a homosexual.”
Pace visited Bio-Blood Components Inc. in Gary, which pays for blood and plasma donations, up to $40 a visit. But during the interview screening process, Pace said he was told he could not be a blood donor there because he “appears to be a homosexual.”
Somewhere, Pastor Mark Driscoll is doing a victory dance.
***Update***: I’ve updated the first paragraph to clarify issues mentioned by commenters.
***Update 2***: A reader sent me this email and gave me permission to post it here:
I’ve worked in the biologics industry for almost four years. In fact, it’s what I’ve been doing since I left Christianity and dropped out of the seminary. So, as an industry insider, let me provide some clarification.
In the case of this one guy who was turned away because he looked kind of gay, it was wrong. If one of my employees had done that, I would have given them quite the ass chewing. Fortunately, based on experience, I know that none of them would do that. There have been several times that we’ve received information that a donor is engaged in high risk behavior, but each time we make sure the donor is aware of the importance of accurate answers and we have to take their word for it.
We do not care about someone’s sexual orientation, all we care about is whether or not someone is part of a group that is at statistically higher risk for HIV or HCV. This includes a lot more groups than just men who have sex with men, but due to company policy I can’t go into specific high risk groups or other deferral criteria. I can safely say that lesbians are more than welcome to donate blood or plasma, especially since they are at the lowest risk.
Due to these measures, as well as the ever increasing accuracy of testing and advanced viral inactivation techniques, no one has contracted a disease form plasma products in over 17 years. Okay, there’s one possible case from a couple years ago, but the condition was CJD and the patient lived in the UK so the source of the infection has not been determined. Whole blood is more dangerous due to the short shelf life (28 days), the fact that most blood donors only donate once (so very limited seriological history), and the fact that most of the viral inactivation techniques would destroy the blood cells. So I can understand a whole blood donation center being over cautious.
Testing is never 100% accurate since there is always the chance of a false negative. This could be due to the person having a low viral load that’s below the threshold of a reactive PCR test or they have not produced enough antibodies to trip a reactive viral marker test. There’s also the chance that samples where mislabeled, drawn from the wrong unit, or that the results were read or entered incorrectly. With all the regulation and very high quality standards, the risk of human error is low, but it’s always possible.
The rigorous donor screening has the benefit of providing some protection against false negatives, but it also protects against emerging diseases or mutated strains that we are unaware of or unable to test for. You have to keep in mind that a few decades ago HIV and HCV both fell into this category. By 1988 70% of hemophilia patients had contracted HIV and nearly 100% had contracted HCV. We also have to look out for the safety of our employees, so this serves to minimize the risk of contracting an illness from a needle stick.
In both the blood and plasma industries, the safety of the patient is the highest concern.