American Medical Association: FDA Ban is “Discriminatory”
It’s been a big month for LGBT equality – most notably, with the DOMA and Prop 8 cases at the Supreme Court. Yet there was also a less-publicized victory for the LGBT community when the American Medical Association voted to oppose an FDA ban on blood donation by men having sex with men (MSM). The ban is a relic from the 1980s (it originated in 1983) when little was known about AIDS, and when screening capabilities did not hold a candle to their modern counterparts. Currently, HIV and AIDS testing is routine for most blood donations, and facilities screen all donors for high-risk behaviors and diseases.
The current ban also does not adequately assess or take into account risk factors associated with HIV beyond sexual orientation. Men and women who engage in unprotected sex with multiple partners face no delay or deferral, while a man who engages in protected, monogamous sex faces a lifetime ban. Individuals who pay heterosexual prostitutes for sex are deferred from donor pools for a year; gay men are deferred from a lifetime following even a single sexual encounter. Unprotected sexual activity presents significant health risks regarding sexually transmitted infections that may indeed be transmitted through blood donations – it is time that the FDA’s policy reflect this reality, rather than outdated homophobic stereotypes. As AMA board member Dr. William Kobler claimed, the ban on MSM as it currently stands is “discriminatory” and “not based on sound science.”
Our country is in urgent need of increased blood donors and donations. The Red Cross estimates that every two seconds on average, someone in the U.S. needs blood. Diseases such as sickle cell disease and many types of cancer often require blood transfusions, with more than 44,000 blood donations needed every day across America. As Jews, we believe that “he who saves one life it is though he has saved the universe” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5). This guiding principle inspires us to do all we can to ensure that as many lives as possible are saved, including procuring and providing health care for all those in need. We also hold dear the principle that all people are created “b’tzelem elohim,” in the image of God, and oppose any policy that discriminates against a segment of our community. We thank the AMA for reflecting these values in last month’s decision, and hope that the FDA listens to America’s doctors and America’s advocates and changes policy in a timely manner.