The FDA Should Ban Black Blood

I recently committed an act of civil disobedience. I donated blood. But before I get to that, I realize that it seems as if David Duke had written the title of this post, but consider this: Black people accounted for 44% of all new HIV infections among adults and adolescents in 2010 (the last time such stats were available), according to the Centers for Disease Control. Given the relatively small size of the U.S. black population, that means that the rate of HIV infection among blacks is eight times that of whites.

The Food and Drug Administration should reject black blood,  just as it shuns gay blood.

Blood SplatterYou might be thinking that black people aren’t responsible for the high HIV rate so much as black gay men are. You’d be right. In fact, men accounted for 70% of all new HIV infections among black people; most of these men were gay or bisexual—or as health agencies commonly put it, “men who have sex with men (MSM).” So, it really is a gay problem.

A big one. In 2010 gay and bisexual men between ages 13 and 24 accounted for 72% of all new HIV infections in that age range. Which is partly why the FDA continues to uphold its ban preventing blood donations by men who’ve have sex with men since 1977.

Of course, the FDA also won’t allow donations by those who’ve had a quickie with a prostitute or intercourse with an IV drug user within the last year. So if you’re a straight married man who’s screwed a hooker a few years ago, your blood’s OK. If you’re an openly gay married man—even with an HIV- test—you’re just screwed. Forever. 

Now back to blacks. Far more HIV+ black men than positive white men are unaware of their status. So, as William Saletan wrote in his must-read Slate article four years ago:

If the awareness gap between blacks and whites overall is even half as great as it was among the men in this study—i.e., if blacks are twice as likely as whites to be unaware that they’re infected, and therefore more likely to try to donate infected blood—then theoretically, black donors are just as risky as MSM donors.

As it is, the rate of HIV infection among straight black females is 20 times greater than that among straight white women.

The bottom line: The only good blood is straight, white, male blood. (Yet another win for the SWMs!)

BloodLet’s be real. I don’t think the FDA should disallow blacks—or gays—from donating blood. By screening using group membership, the agency isn’t just discriminating; it’s acting illogically. Ultimately, there will always be one class of people that shows a higher HIV rate than the next. Worse, a bureau charged with protecting us is endangering us by needlessly limiting the blood supply.

Today’s medical tests make it practically impossible for HIV+ blood to eventually transfuse. Rather than cross off large swaths of people based on irrelevant traits like skin color or sexual orientation, the FDA is better off discouraging donations by those who’ve recently engaged in true high-risk behaviors. The American Medical Association agrees. An AMA board member not long ago suggested an updated policy:

The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science. This new policy urges a federal policy change to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone.

In the meantime, I’m appalled by the many gay men who claim some variation of, “If the government doesn’t want my blood, then I’m not going to donate.”

Dumb gays. Uncle Sam may not want your blood, but the mother hemorrhaging after a car accident does. So does the child pierced by a stray bullet. So do many other fellow citizens. The potential to save their lives is worth breaking an arcane rule.

NeedleRecently, I did just that.

Granted, I’m a gay virgin—that is, I’ve never had anal sex (quit rolling your eyes; that’s a whole other story you can read here), so I’m allowed to donate. Or so I thought. A call to my local blood bank revealed that the FDA deems oral sex “sex.” Good thing I knew in advance. When the donation questionnaire asked if I’d ever had sex with another male, even once, I checked “no.”

“Are you sure everything you filled out is accurate?” a worker asked.

“Oh yeah, totally!” Richard Simmons I replied.

In the end, my blood may save a life, even if the FDA prefers otherwise. Yours can too. Everyone, which means everyone, go visit your local blood center.

3 thoughts on “The FDA Should Ban Black Blood

  1. The latest: A Des Moines teen committed suicide last year and specifically asked that his organs be donated; some were, some weren’t. “[H]is liver, lungs, kidneys and heart all found recipients. Unlike blood, as long as a recipient gives consent to any associated potential risks (such as HIV transmission) after counseling, certain organs can be donated. But because his mother could not confirm to the donor network that her son hadn’t been sexually active in the five years before his death, Betts’s eyes were rejected.”


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