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Policy Paper

Policy Paper

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Policy Paper regarding the ban on MSM blood donations.
Policy Paper regarding the ban on MSM blood donations.

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Published by: Sarah Shulbank-Smith on Apr 27, 2013
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Shulbank-Smith 1
Sarah Shulbank-SmithPersuasive Policy Paper Ben Henderson9 April 2013Ban on MSM Blood Donations is AntiquatedAny man who has had sex with another man since 1977 is banned from donating blood by a 1983 FDA (Federal Drug Administration) ruling. This was a cautionary step taken to protectagainst the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus through blood transfusion. While this was a potentially beneficial safeguard thirty years ago, the increased medical knowledge anddevelopment of accurate tests to identify HIV in blood donations has rendered the ban outdated.The FDA should lift the ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with men (oftenreferred to as MSM), adding a one-year deferral for anyone who participates in unsafe sexual behavior, which will be defined by a more specific pre-donation survey. The ban perpetuatesdiscrimination by holding heterosexual donors and homosexual donors to different standards of deferral, and robs hospitals of much-needed blood donations. The risk of HIV in blood goingundetected is miniscule, and lifting the ban would encourage civic responsibility across the board, as well as adding to the pool of blood that can be used to help those in need. To fully understand the origin of the ban, one must be aware of what HIV is and how it isspread. HIV is a virus that gradually destroys the immune system. It can be spread through anal,
oral, or vaginal sexual contact, from mother to child, and through infected blood (“HIVInfection”). HIV was first discovered in the United States at the beginning of the 1980‟s. In New York and California, men were being diagnosed with Kaposi‟s Sarcoma, a rare cancer 
thathad typically found in elderly men from specific heritages. Starting in 1980s, the men being
 
Shulbank-Smith 2
diagnosed were young and seemingly healthy, and did not fit the usual description of those withthe disease. Men were also being diagnosed with Pneumocystis Pneumonia Carinii, a pneumonia that occurs in those with immune system deficiencies. The thread linking the variousmen infected with the cancer and the pneumonia was their homosexuality. Between 1980 and1982, more and more cases were reported. The cases were starting to affect not only gay men, but a few heterosexual men and women, over half of whom used IV drugs (
“Hi
story of 
HIV/AIDS in America”). What was occurring to all of these men and women? Why was this
virus spreading so quickly? The answers to both of these questions were as yet unknown.The blossoming of gay pride in the 1970s and 1980s led to a subculture of widespread promiscuity and easily accessible anonymous sex. The Gay Rights Movement is widelyrecognized as having begun with the 1969 Stonewall Riots, which occurred at the Stonewall Inn,a popular Greenwich Village gay bar. New York police regularly raided bars, clubs and other locations that catered to gay people. On June 27, 1969, the police raid of the Stonewall Inn wasmet with opposition; riots broke out, with thousands of people gathered on the streets, chanting
“gay power!”
 
(“The Stonewall Riots”).
The riots continued over the next week. This was one of the first examples of gay pride, and it was the start of a movement towards openness andacceptance. As gay pride increased, more and more people came out of the closet,experimenting and experiencing their sexuality.
In 2005, Joseph Levitt‟s
released hisdocumentary,
Gay Sex in the 70s
. The film features men recounting stories of anonymous sex onthe pier, in bathhouses, outside bars, etc. Th
e explosion of “free sex”
and the lack of knowledgeabout HIV/AIDS is what led to the meteoric spread of the disease. One man in
Gay Sex in the70s
recounts his experience attending a birthday party for a friend, and quickly realizing it was agay orgy. Luckily for him, his lover demanded that t
hey leave. “You flash forward just a few
 
Shulbank-Smith 3
years, maybe five years, six years. Um, I think every man at that party except for us was dead…
Ithink every one
” (
Gay Sex in the 70s
). Due to the lack of information about HIV and thefrenzied and sometimes secret sexual contact, the virus was spreading like wildfire. And doctorshad no idea how to treat it.The general unfamiliarity towards the virus, as well as the associated stigma anddiscrimination were huge contributors to the spread of HIV in the 1980s, and led to the ban ongay blood donations. According to Alvin Friedman-Klein, a dermatologist and virologist in NewYork City, the disease attracted little attention from the government until it started affectinghemophiliacs, because
“gays and IV drug users, underdogs…didn‟t deserve
any specialattention
” (Landau, Elizabeth. “HIV in the 80s: „People didn‟t want to kiss you on the cheek‟”
).Hemophiliacs require frequent blood transfusions because their blood does not clot properly.The blood that hemophiliacs received was often pooled from many donors, making it an easyvehicle for HIV in the earlier generations when so little was known about the virus or the spreadof it. According to the National Hemophilia Foundation, from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s,about half of those with hemophilia became infected with HIV (
"HIV/AIDS”
,
 National  Hemophilia Foundation
). These shocking statistics, as well as the large number of affected gaymen led to the MSM blood ban.At the time it was put in place, the ban was a cautionary step stemming from fear of theunknown. The life of gay men in 2013 is drastically different from the life of those in the 1970sand 1980s. As the LGBTQ community has been more and more assimilated into mainstreamculture, there is less need or desire for screaming pride and
frequent “free sex”
. The gay culturehas changed, but the ban has not.While not directly stated, the ban on blood donations from menwho have sex with men discriminates against the gay population. On the American Association

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