Next time you take a trip to the doctor’s office for a routine physical examination, you will no doubt have your blood pressure checked and your larynx ogled. But you will also have your blood drawn for HIV/AIDS testing—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
On May 9, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended non-binding guidelines stating that testing for the HIV virus be included among the standard battery of tests for Americans, age 13 to 64. The CDC claimed that 250,000 Americans afflicted with HIV are unaware that they are hosts to the virus and that these people are most responsible for its proliferation. Previously, the CDC only recommended such testing to high-risk groups such as gay men and intravenous drug users—a stigmatizing policy which was inconsistent with their mission of reducing HIV transmission to the maximum extent possible.
We commend the CDC’s new initiative for advancing the important process of dissociating this lethal infection, which affects such a diverse population, from homosexuality—with which it is hardly fully coincident. Although the CDC estimated that 18,000 adults and adolescents diagnosed with AIDS in 2004 were exposed to HIV via male-to-male sexual contact, they also estimated that a substantial 13,000 others had contracted the virus via heterosexual behavior. Moreover, regardless of whether people who currently avoid taking an HIV/AIDS test do so out of negligence or to avoid stigma, making testing more common will improve the information environment and help curtail HIV propagation.
On a similar note, we hope the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will follow the CDC’s lead by altering its current policy of grouping gay men with prostitutes and intravenous drug users in instituting a lifetime ban on their ability to donate blood. The only other people permanently prohibited from donating blood are those who have or have had life-threatening debilitations and diseases, including cancer, hemophilia, and multiple sclerosis. It seems ludicrous that someone who has engaged in repeated, unprotected sex with female prostitutes is allowed to donate blood 12 months after his last such incident, whereas a well-educated, HIV-negative homosexual who practices safe sex monogamously cannot.
Critics of opening donor pools to gay men often cite the fact that only five percent of American males are gay, of which 15 percent are HIV-positive—and that only five percent of the gay population would likely donate blood. Hence, they argue, allowing gay men to donate blood translates to a minimal expansion of the donor pool at the risk of greatly increasing the number of potential donors infected with HIV. Nevertheless, with the interminable need of blood and the inevitable blood shortages that come along from time to time, we are dismayed that the FDA would refuse to use every means possible to give blood to those who need it. With summer blood shortages just ahead, we instead hope that the FDA will consider public welfare more important than the financial costs incurred in unbarring homosexuals from donation.
The advent of universal HIV/AIDS testing has continued the vital dissociation of HIV/AIDS from homosexual behavior. Let’s continue in making this divorce permanent by kicking the permanent ban on gay blood donations.