Monday, June 19, 2006

Democratic Phlebotomy

There's a great article by Art Caplan over at, originally on MSNBC about the current shortage of blood in US bloodbanks.

I'm one of those people who feels obligated (and more than happy) to donate blood every eight weeks. There's simply no good reason not to do it. It saves lives, you aren't losing anything (hey, you get some cookies out of the deal), and it only takes about thirty minutes of your time. I've been in 4 times this month and unable to donate because my iron level has been too low (barely - 12.3 when it needs to be a minimum of 12.5). But I keep going back, and I keep trying. The bloodbank called me 5 times last week (honestly - they called 3 times in one day). They're fairly desperate for blood donations right now. I'll go back in this week and try again. I've even started taking pre-natal vitamins purely for the higher iron content so I can donate blood. But I'm only one person, and nothing I can do will ever be enough. It will always be something, but never enough.

In this article, Art Caplan makes the argument that the restrictions on blood donation are too strict. Specifically, he argues that it's time to start letting gay men donate blood.

I could not agree more. It hadn't even dawned on me how offensive and outdated that restriction was until I mentioned to my best friend that I was going to donate one day, and he replied, "They don't want my blood, so screw them." And then I thought about it. There is nothing, in this decade, that puts gay men at higher risk than most others. I could sleep with half of Oregon and still donate, but a gay man in a monogamous relationship is still considered high risk.

Art Caplan says:

The policy of forever excluding people who had male-to-male sex at some point during the past 30 years should have been changed a long time ago. The accuracy of the latest technology for screening blood means that there is no reason to exclude anyone as a donor in any risk group for more than a month. The question now is whether the FDA and Congress will act or simply let old prejudices, biases and fears stand in the way of supplying the nation with more badly needed blood.

The AIDS epidemic has been with us for 25 years. The policy currently governing blood donation in the United States has been with us for 22 years. Given our ability to guarantee an exceedingly safe blood supply, it is time to revisit the policy and accept blood from all Americans willing to donate. Fear and prejudice should not be allowed to kill people.

He couldn't be more right. It's a terrible policy, and the worst part of it is that I cannot imagine a great way to enact a change in the policy. I would go so far as to say that the tattoo and piercing policies are just as ridiculous. A person knows if they've been tattooed or pierced at a sterile facility. I don't imagine the type who are getting tattooed in a back alley are also lining up to donate blood. (Perhaps I'm wrong about this, but there has to be a better test or restriction than a blanket 1 year suspension on donation). I plan on getting one of the tattoos I got done in my younger days altered very soon, and my bloodbank will lose a year's worth of blood because they won't accept that those needles come right out of a clean package - never having touched another individual. I suspect when blood levels get truly low enough for serious concern, someone will take notice of the outdated policy. But it isn't as though I can stop donating out of protest (specifically for the policy on gay men) - that seems like it would do even more harm than good. But, perhaps, if each of us that donate mention to the employees at the bloodbank that this policy needs changing, perhaps, just maybe, enough voices saying the same thing will become loud enough to reach the right ears.

Originally posted to hyper-textual ontology June 18, 2006


Robin Zebrowski said...

PS - I finally donated today. Everyone at the blood bank applauded when my iron was high enough because they had 24 people not show up for their scheduled appointments yesterday alone...

Go donate blood, people. That is, if they'll have you.

Tom FitzGerald said...


First the homophobes wreck Scouting, then blood donation! How many feel good bastions of unabashed wholesomeness are they out to get? They'll be after picking up litter next, you just wait and see....

Anonymous said...

I didn't even know that gay men are not allowed to donate! Thanks for cluing me in.