Letter: MSM exclusion is a sadly unknown injustice here

Many of us might not be aware that under current FDA policy, men who have sex with men (MSM) cannot donate blood, serum, platelets, organs, sperm or any other bodily tissues — including bone marrow. The policy was originally motivated by the concentration of HIV/AIDS cases in the MSM community, but as the disease has spread across all demographics, nearly all relevant professional organizations have called for the policy’s abolition, and it now only serves to suggest that the very bodies of MSM are somehow inferior in our government’s eyes. Many Yalies just learned of this injurious policy during Thursday’s Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registry Drive.

Several volunteers for the drive learned about it when classmates they had asked to register took a moment to explain why they were ineligible. Others, instead of learning, responded with incredulity. MSM were repeatedly met by denials, either in the form of assurances that they were misinformed or suggestions that they were merely fabricating an excuse to avoid registering. Feeling disbelief that such a misguided policy continues to exist would be understandable, but outright denial is less so.

Denying a claim of injustice, however unlikely or insignificant it may seem, is hurtful and inconsiderate. For the sake of our community, we can do our best to understand what injustice exists around us and to hear out our fellows when they claim to be victims.

Aaron Lewis

April 21

The writer is a freshman in Branford College.


  • Quals

    “The policy was originally motivated by the concentration of HIV/AIDS cases in the MSM community, but as the disease has spread across all demographics…”

    “At the end of 2006, more than half (53%) of all people living with HIV in the United States were MSM or MSM-IDU (injection drug use).” AND “MSM represent approximately 2% of the US population, yet are the population most severely affected by HIV and are the only risk group in which new HIV infections have been increasing steadily since the early 1990s.”

    You should get your facts straight. I understand your frustration, but even though labs have multiple tests for HIV, no test is foolproof, and occasionally HIV positive samples make it through the gauntlet despite labworkers best efforts. Given such an dramatic enrichment for HIV among such a small group of people, it is obvious to exclude them from the donor population.

    I’m glad that the FDA is not putting lives at risk simply for the PC purpose of making MSM feel included.

  • zjkil9

    As an MSM, I entirely agree with the above comment. To add to the literature cited, a 2008 study found that around 20% of MSM in 21 major U.S. cities were infected with HIV, and 44% of these were unaware of their infection. In 2007, MSM were 44 to 86 times as likely to be diagnosed with HIV compared with other men, and 40 to 77 times as likely as women. Donating blood is a privilege, not a right, and until we see a widespread and sweeping increase in safer sex practices among MSM, it’s one that CANNOT be safely extended to this demographic. MSM should not resent the government for making them feel “inferior”, a claim that anyone thinking rationally could refute, but instead protest the (largely) irresponsible and hedonistic actions of that subset of their community that is responsible for making MSM the single greatest risk factor for this devastating disease.

  • kokoro

    Over 50% of new HIV diagnoses in 2009 were in African Americans, yet they only account for 12.6% of the population. Somehow I doubt the FDA would ban African Americans from donating blood.

  • Quals

    Kokoro, what proportion of the new HIV cases in AA were MSM?
    FYI, I am pro-gay rights/marriage/etc/etc. It’s just as a student working in a lab I have learned too well how fallible even ‘standard’ lab tests can be.

  • zjkil9

    In addition, the higher transmission rate among African Americans is almost entirely attributable to external/contextual factors, including poverty, worse education/healthcare, societal ostracism, etc. By contrast, MSM sexual practices are inherently riskier for the transmission of HIV and other STDs—an unfortunate ramification of human biology, but such is life. Is it wise to apply a blanket ban to all MSM, regardless of one’s promiscuity or date of last sexual activity? Perhaps not. But insisting that MSM be treated on a level playing field with other blood donors because of some perceived injustice or inferiority recklessly endangers the lives of recipients, when greater efforts should instead be made to thwart the reasoning for the ban by combating the spread of HIV. Remember: no one can pathologize your body without your consent.

  • Yale12

    So, zjkil9, should we just prevent African Americans below a certain tax bracket or living in certain areas of the inner-city from donating blood? It seems unfair to treat poor blacks on a level playing field with other donors when all statistics point to them being far, far more likely to have HIV.


  • penny_lane

    I don’t have a study to cite, but my understanding is that spread of HIV and other STI’s among the black community has more to do with the lack of safe-sex practices than with who the sex occurs between. It’s the same reason why birth rates in black communities are the same as in white communities but abortion rates are much higher. I don’t know what numbers are comparing the likelihood of a black person’s donation to be HIV positive to that of an MSM person’s donation, but if the numbers are similar, both groups (and any other high risk demographic) should be treated the same way.

  • zjkil9

    @Yale12: You are confusing the situational contexts that give birth to risky behaviors and the behaviors themselves. Your (sarcastic) suggestion is akin to suggesting that all men attracted to the same sex be prevented from donating blood. Poverty has a positive correlation with HIV rates, but one does not contract HIV merely by being poor.

    @penny: HIV is much more prevalent among MSM than among black Americans. As mentioned above about 20% of urban MSM were found to have HIV (finding rates for the entire populace is difficult). A 2008 analysis, meanwhile, found that 2% of black Americans were HIV-positive (see “HIV Infection in the United States Household Population Aged 18-49 Years: Results from 1999-2006″).

    These are the facts—not palatable to some, but what we have to work with and confront in fighting HIV infection.

  • ajl58

    In the case of blood donations, the American Association of Blood Banks, America’s Blood Centers and the Red Cross all support replacing the current ban on MSM donors with a one-year deferral for all high-risk activity, and have for several years. Their findings are comprehensive and evidence-based, and can be extended to address the same risk & testing concerns associated with other tissue donations.