Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. . . The Red Cross.

OK, so a gay episcopal priest, a rock star who has tattoo’s from all over the world and used to be married to a woman with hepatitis C, a bisexual woman and her partner who recently had a blood transfusion walk into a bar. . .
So here’s the question. Which one of these people would be allowed to donate blood in the United States?

Oh, I see, you want to know more. Well, let’s meet our group then shall, we?

Well first there’s Larry. He’s an Episcopal Priest who has been in a stable monogamous relationship with his partner of several years. He otherwise has no risk factors, and is H.I.V. negative.
Next there’s Tommy, he‘s a rock star who has been all over the world, and likes to get tattoos and piercings from all the exotic places he travels. His most recent tattoo is of his former wife who had hepatitis C. (he’s been a bit down about the breakup and hasn’t gotten any new tattoos or piercings for a few years now).
Then there’s Ella, she and Larry have been long time friends. They were in a relationship in their younger days and had sex a few times before they came out of the closet. She has now been in a stable monogamous relationship with her partner Jennifer for a few years now.
Lastly there’s Ella’s partner, Jennifer. She needed a transfusion a few months ago for a stomach ulcer, but since starting some new medications her ulcer has been under control.

Now lets see if you guessed correctly. . .

Larry: No, Larry may not donate blood. It does not matter that Larry has tested negative for every disease on the planet. It does not matter that he has no other risk factors. The simple fact is that any male who has sex with another male (even once) after 1977 may not donate blood in the United States. Ever.
Tommy: Yes, Tommy may donate blood. According to the American Red Cross, even if you have received tattoos and piercings where the sanitary condition of the instruments was not known, you may donate blood as long as 1 year has elapsed. In addition, even though Tommy was married to someone who had Hepatitis C (who can not donate blood), Tommy may still donate blood as long as 1 year has elapsed since living with that person.
Ella: Yes, Ella may donate blood. Ella has no risk factors, other than having had sex with a man who turned out to be gay. Strangely it does not matter to the American Red Cross whether a woman has sex with someone who had sex with other men. It only cares about men who have sex with other men. If Ella had several affairs with bisexual men that fact itself would not preclude her from donating blood, but it does preclude any man in the same situation.  
Jennifer: No, Jennifer may not donate blood. Another unexpected quirk. Once you have received a transfusion you must wait a year. Apparently getting that same blood that they took all that trouble protecting and screening, and telling you was fairly low risk, now  makes you a high risk donor.  Hence a 1 year waiting period before you may donate again. Weird.  
Yet the obvious standout among these circumstances to me remains, that gay men can not donate blood. This seems to be an  anachronistic throw back to a time when AIDS was feared as the next epidemic scourge, brought on humanity by a wrathful God angered about male homosexuality. The American Red Cross claims that it is in turn bound by rules set forth by the F.D.A. Thus, today your blood transfusion is more likely to come from a Tommy Lee than from an episcopal priest. Go figure.

  • George

    Thank you for bringing this disparity to light.

    As a gay health care provider in a monogamous relationship for over a decade, it still amazes me that the FDA and the Red Cross feels that my partner and I are at higher risk for HIV than our friends who have had multiple relationships.

    I’d like to donate blood. I order blood products routinely and understand their value. Yet I’m felt to be at too high a risk, though I have no risk factors other than my relationship.

    Perhaps the rules will be re-evaluated, but I’m afraid it will be too much of a political hot potato. After all, our public policy is driven more by emotion than data.

  • Interesting…