On Thursday, the Family Research Council sent Peter Sprigg to testify before the Department of Health and Human Services that the Food and Drug Administration should maintain its ban on men who have sex with men (MSM) donating blood. Sprigg suggested that the current demand for blood didn’t warrant risking HIV infection:
There is no question that the use of donated blood tainted with HIV could be a threat to public safety. There is also no question that men who have sex with men are at a much greater risk of being infected with HIV. While there is also no question that we have made tremendous advances in the treatment of HIV infection, advances in the prevention of high-risk behaviors have lagged behind. [...]
There is little evidence that a change in the lifetime deferral policy is needed to maintain an adequate blood supply. As the Washington Times reported this week, medical advances mean that the demand for donor blood is decreasing. Furthermore, only 0.4 percent of all blood donor deferrals are because of the exclusion of men who have sex with men.
While it is true that men who have sex with men continue to face high rates of HIV infection, it is also true that there is virtually no HIV infection taking place through blood donation — only one in 2 million infections occurred through transfusion. That’s why the American Medical Association (AMA) voted this year to oppose the 30-year-old law prohibiting men who’ve had sex with men from donating blood. Because individuals can easily be screened through HIV testing, the AMA concluded that there is no scientific justification for the blanket discrimination against gay and bi men.
Sprigg’s suggestion that the demand for donor blood is decreasing doesn’t reflect how quickly shortages can develop, such as just two months ago during the government shutdown. Any crisis situation could immediately create a surge in the demand for blood, but MSM would still be banned from giving.
Moreover, Sprigg’s argument that very few men are turned away from giving blood is an admission that some discrimination is tolerable if it impacts a small enough group, as well as an attempt to use a history of discrimination to justify the continuation of that discrimination. Individuals can donate blood as often as every eight weeks — about six times every year — but a man who’s had sex with men only needs to be told once that he’s permanently restricted from ever donating again. Thus, that .4 percent figure is compelling for two seemingly contradicting reasons. An estimated 3.6 percent of men identify as gay or bisexual, so the fact that .4 percent of all blood deferrals are for MSM may not actually be as low a proportion as it sounds. At the same time, however, it reflects how the policy has effectively dissuaded MSM from even attempting to donate.