Blood truly is wonderful stuff. This red, salty liquid that flows through our views and arteries carries oxygen to and from the tissues, sustaining life and keeping us fit and healthy, yet behind the medical facade of it’s proven necessities there are discriminatory barriers in regards to blood donations.
Indeed, donating blood is one of the most wonderful things anyone can do. It costs absolutely nothing, you can save multiple lives through one sitting and it also has the added bonus of making you feel great that you have helped so many people, but sadly, not everyone can donate.
Okay… So why can’t some people donate? Blood is just blood… Right?
Yes. Blood donations are valuable to anyone who wishes to receive it, yet in most nations, there are deferrals and bans on donations by who are considered to be ‘Men who have Sex with Men’, commonly referred to as MSM. Tragically, the reasons behind restrictions are entrenched in homophobic and an outmoded way of thinking. In the 1980’s, there existed an atmosphere of hysteria surrounding the issue, as the so-called “Gay Plague” was affecting the LGBTQ community more severely than the rest of the population in developed countries, and the mere notion of having GRID (gay-related immune deficiency) was seen as a badge of shame.
A classic example of this was the case of Freddy Mercury, who famously hid his illness, until it became impossible to do so, to avoid the stigma surrounding the disease at the time. This way of thinking was entrenched within not only the sensationalist press, but also within government and medical thinking, and thus restrictions on MSM blood donations were articulated.
But anyone can have HIV/AIDS, not just people within the LGBTQ community. Surely medical professionals would have learned that by now?
They have, but still little to no action has been taken on the issue. Although huge strides have been made in removing the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, the view towards blood donations remains one of the last hurdles in liberally minded nations. Deferrals do exist, however, and this represents a tiny step forward in achieving equal donation rights, yet again even deferrals still represent a type of discrimination. In the United Kingdom, for example, there exists a one year deferral for MSM, meaning that if you are a man, who has had sex with a man, and you admit to having sex within the past year; you are not allowed to donate. Enforcement, of course, is impossible, and such restrictions are considered to be bureaucratic and superficial, yet the public’s perception still lingers on that LGBTQ blood is tainted with pathogens.
Surely they must test donated blood before it used for a medical procedure?
They do, and that’s the crazy thing about having a ban and/or restrictions on LGBTQ donations. All blood donations must be tested for pathogens before it used, and if it is suitable for use, the blood gets thrown in and mixed up with all of the other donated samples of that particular blood group. You do not just receive one person’s blood, you are getting a mixture of blood belonging to a whole load of different folks, which may include LGBTQ blood! Testing is an easy process and takes up to two weeks, so it does not matter whether you are considered to be an MSM, black, white, yellow or blue, there is simply no need to use medical advice that is thirty years old at the very least.
Are there any progressive examples of blood donations policies?
Thankfully there is light at the end of the tunnel. Latin American nations are doing a great job in leading the way in blood donation equality. Chile, for example, does not care what you do in your personal life, and will happily accept blood donations without any discrimination. Argentina similarly follows a policy such as this, as does Mexico. So-called ‘developed nations’ lag behind, as we have seen with the United Kingdom. Germany, Austria, and Belgium do not even have a deferral policies, meaning that it is illegal to donate blood at all if you have even slept with a man, meaning that millions of potential life-saving donations are failing to come to fruition.
I live in one of these so-called ‘developed nations’… What can I do to help?
If you can, donate blood regardless of your personal background unless you have been medically proven to have pathogenic blood. If you fear that you can’t donate, or feel stigmatized to do so, write to your local representative and ensure that your elected official makes his voice heard on this issue. Alternatively, consider contributing to the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for equality in blood donations across the world.
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