As BC students muddle themselves together to try and push through spring quarter, the last quarter for many before a cathartically anti-educational vacation, the Bloodworks Northwest mobile donation centers have already diligently set up shop in the middle of Bellevue College’s main plaza.
Since its rickety beginnings in the 17th century, and especially post-World War II, blood and plasma transfusions have saved countless lives. Bloodworks Northwest, previously known as Puget Sound Blood Center, is probably the largest system of blood banks in the entire state of Washington.
But not everyone is happy about the way that Bloodworks, or any other blood donation network operating in the United States, is legally required to deny blood from people of certain demographics.
“Please donate blood -unless you’re gay!” said English professor Dr. Craig Hurd-McKenney with a certain mocking lilt. Fellow English professor Dr. Natalie Martinez laughed at McKenney’s joke.
Dr. Martinez and Dr. Hurd-McKenney, both BC professors, were laughing at the United State’s lifetime ban on blood donations from MSM, or men who have sex with men. A longtime controversy, this funny little bit of politicized legislation was purportedly put into place to quell the spread of HIV/AIDS, which could be transferred from the sick to the healthy by blood.
Despite the quick discovery of tests to screen all blood donations for the virus, the gay community was at the time basically considered so rife with disease that it would be a waste of money to screen all of the blood, which would then simply have to be thrown out.
The MSM demographic is in fact statistically far more likely to have HIV/AIDS—the CDC reports that though MSM only mae up 4 percent of the country’s population, they made up 63 percent of new HIV/AIDS cases in 2010—and yet the political and social force behind refusing the blood of MSM portrays itself as being less concerned with safety than it is with ideology.
Some similar but less heated controversies came up during the course of this article’s survey. A British woman found herself offended that she’s not allowed to give blood due to laws restricting the donation of blood by anyone who lived in Britain between 1980 and 1997, during the European-Canadian epidemic of mad cow disease.
While I do believe that she likely does not have the disease and that it is unfortunate that laws restrict her from giving blood, there’s a key difference between the case of the British woman, and the irony felt by Hurd-Mckenney and Martinez.
Mad cow disease is not something that can be tested for in a live human being. It takes autopsy measures to prove if a person has the disease. Nothing but death or spread of the infection can prove the infection’s existence.
The testing required to filter out blood infected with HIV/AIDS, regardless of what the donor claims their sexual orientation is, is a relatively inexpensive, mandatory procedure. That is to say, blood is tested regardless, and only healthy blood can reach a hospital patient. Furthermore, the chances of false negatives are extraordinarily small.
There is a constant need for blood in order to save people in critical condition, sometimes in such a condition that only extraordinarily rare blood configurations can save them, prompting need for diverse supplies.
But this speaks to cold, capitalistic utilitarianism. Ethically, it’s a matter of equity.
Dinman polled students and faculty of the college regarding this issue:
Q1: Do you believe that MSM should be able to donate blood?
Q2 If you required blood would you be willing to receive screened blood from MSM?