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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

“Another pint? Sorry, you’re cut off”

It’s hard to stay positive when you’re O-negative.

You have a liquid flowing through your veins that could save countless lives, one that can be distributed to any victim in need, despite their own blood type. That fluid could be the difference between life or death for a car crash victim or a recent surgery patient. Your blood type allows only 7 percent of blood donations to be given to it, but can be donated to 100 percent of the human population. It’s the universal donor; a blood type that begs the responsibility to be donated by its very chemical definition.

Which is why it’s hard to “”B +”” when you’ve just been placed on the “”deferred donor”” list for blood donors: an indefinite purgatory of rejection for blood-bearing would-be saviors. Sorry, patients in need. Thanks for the Oreos and cranberry juice, though.

If I sound angry, it’s because I am — livid, actually. I can claim no personal gain or pleasure from the process of giving blood (besides, of course, the aforementioned free juice and cookies). I get no perverse pleasure from the needle stick, nor do I enjoy “”Dexter””-like fantasies at the sight of blood. I give the stuff because I have the best of it, universal life in a pint bag of O-negative. There seems to be a cosmic responsibility to it, and I’m more than happy to oblige. So you can imagine my surprise when I was denied my attempt to deliver a pint of that vital blood to the American Red Cross.

I can appreciate the safety methods that keep the blood donation process from doing more harm than good. I can understand that certain illnesses or visitations to malaria hotspots in the world bar participation. However, I cannot fathom the archaic and ignorant reasoning against MSM, males who have had sexual contacts with other males. It is an uninformed and uninvestigated rule, an outdated precaution that prevents a large portion of the population from donating the crucial life force of blood.

The ban arose in the 1970s, a time where propaganda and slightly justified fear created a widespread image of the HIV virus being associated with and mostly limited to the homosexual male community. There arose a social stigma, a misconception that HIV is a “”homosexual and bisexual”” disease, a thought process exacerbated by religious fervor and media sensation.  

Since then, we know quite clearly that HIV is not a disease transmitted solely by homosexual contact. In true scientific and statistical fact, it is just as potentially prevalent and spreadable among all demographics, and the only increased HIV risk is with unprotected and promiscuous sex. That applies to everyone.

In fact, the issue at hand isn’t with the Red Cross, even though that is where I erroneously directed my anger at initially. The FDA is at fault, not the Red Cross; the latter is simply a slave to the FDA’s enforced guidelines. There have been many proposals to lift the ban or simply revaluate the process, spearheaded by such organizations like the Red Cross that have been ignored or shut down by the FDA. In 2006, the American Red Cross, American Blood Centers and the AABB, or American Association of Blood Banks, released a joint statement that condemned the continued practice in the face of contrary scientific developments. To quote a passage: “”… the current lifetime deferral for men who have had sex with other men is medically and scientifically unwarranted.””

Despite these protests and cries for common sense, the FDA continues to operate on what some have labeled a homophobic agenda, denying the American population many pints of crucial blood.

There are ways to maintain safety and still allow MSM donors. Modern screening technology has developed to a point where it would be near impossible that HIV strains would make it through. Much more simply, there could and should exist sub-questions that arise from the warning flag of MSM, explicit but important inquiries that pertain to the type of contact had. Even though they may seem prying and personal, the nature of the contact needs to be the deciding factor, not a broad conception of the risks of a certain community. Details count, and in many of the cases, an MSM who took safety precautions is at less of risk than a heterosexual female who is spared most sexual contact questions.

What the FDA is doing is wrong and ignorant, and simply a lazy way of taking precautions against risks with blood donations. It is a rare and beautiful thing that people are begging to be allowed to help others, to take risks associated with blood donations so that they can help strangers anonymously. The fact that such a movement is thwarted by ignorance and hype is an appalling blemish on what would be an amazing humanitarian effort.

It is time for the FDA to listen up and actually make a conscious effort to revise the guidelines for MSM donations. Until then, they are only hurting themselves and others by restricting one of our country’s greatest and most valuable resources.

— Johnny McKay is a media arts senior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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