Last week, Harvard students involved in the Harvard Red Cross ran a two-day blood drive at three locations around campus. Staged as a competition with Yale, the “Harvard Beats Yale” blood drive has historically generated over 100 units of blood per school.
We truly love the Harvard-Yale blood drive. Having a student-run drive on campus raises student awareness and participation in a time when the American Red Cross is especially in need of donations. Drawing on the historic rivalry between Harvard and Yale is also a good strategy for generating passion about donations. Nonetheless, as Harvard students, we cannot help taking issue with the fact that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration still maintains the increasingly ridiculous regulation that men who have sex with men cannot donate blood.
The Harvard-Yale blood drive, staged as a competition between the two schools as to which campus can donate the most blood to the American Red Cross, has proved wildly popular in both Cambridge and New Haven. Apparently, despite our 300-year-old rivalry with Yale, there is not enough bad blood between our schools to prevent the success of this worthwhile charitable event.
Although we cannot possibly imagine what kind of person would want blood donated from an Eli coursing through their veins, we nonetheless acknowledge the fruitful and creative nature of the drive. Better yet, the Harvard-Yale-theme of the blood drive allows the Crimson to publish headlines referring to “a bloody battle,” an unusual circumstance for a college newspaper. Indeed, the light-hearted nature of the drive is fitting: Donating blood is a relatively simple and vitally important way of quite literally saving lives.
However, the presence of a blood drive on open-minded and LGBT-friendly campuses like Harvard and Yale raises the issue of discrimination in blood donations. After all, U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation still prohibits men who have had sex with men at any time since 1977 from donating blood.
Established in 1983 in response to fears of HIV spreading through the blood supply, this regulation is out-dated and irrelevant to the modern blood donor community. Although men who have had sex with men do have a higher incidence of HIV infection than the general population, new testing technology makes this nearly irrelevant: Modern tests can detect the HIV virus within weeks of infection with nearly complete certainty. In fact, as of November 2011, the United Kingdom established a rule allowing men who had sexual contact with a man longer than twelve months before donation to give blood. This regulation, called a “deferral,” recognizes that different people have varying risks of infection based on not only the gender of sexual partners but also frequency of sexual contact and other factors.
Of course, other categories of people are also discouraged or prohibited from donating blood, including people who weight less than 110 pounds and people who have travelled to or lived abroad in certain countries. Even so, the systematic exclusion of much of the LGBT community from taking part in blood donations seems discriminatory and illogical.
Allowing men who have had sex with men to donate blood would allow many more Harvard and Yale students to participate in this most bloody of competitions—and, more importantly, would allow many more people to give blood and save lives.