A Scientist, a Socialite, and a Celibate apply for a job . . .

Scientist_Socialite_CelibateStop me if you’ve heard this one. The Scientist, the Socialite, and the Celibate all want the plum job of being in charge of blood donations. (Spoiler alert – the Scientist loses.)

The Celibate points out his qualifications:

  • Since 1983, the U.S. has banned male blood donors who have ever had intercourse with another male. A proposed FDA rule would allow homosexual males to donate after one year of celibacy.
  • For a truly safe blood supply, all donors should refrain from all sexual intercourse for at least one year before donating. True, only 22% of adults could be donors but safety is a noble goal and if we promote celibacy along the way, so much the better.
  • As a celibate, he demonstrates the self-discipline required and is a role model for all donors.

The Socialite has her strengths:

  • She understands society’s sensitivities to bedroom talk, and the “ick” response evoked in many people as they contemplate other people’s sex lives.
  • She understands that deep-rooted tradition trumps all else, though some may be hurt (donors and recipients alike).

The Scientist has a few facts:

  • The test used by Red Cross can detect HIV in a person who has been exposed as recently as the previous month.
  • All blood donors could be welcomed if they have had no high-risk activity in the previous month, make it two or three months to be on the safe side.
  • The Scientist could define “high risk” activity, so that a monogamous male couple would not be considered high risk while a tom-catting ladies’ man who never uses a condom would. (This is the opposite of what happens under the current or the proposed rule.)
  • This would expand the pool of donors, which would be very helpful since blood donations have decreased significantly. From 2008 to 2011, donations went down 9.1%.
  • Currently, less than one percent of donated blood is rejected because it tests positive for viruses. Even if the percentage of rejected blood doubled, it would not affect the total costs; all donated units are tested.

And the winner is . . . . the Socialite. Yes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration which describes itself as a “science-based regulatory agency” after several years of collaboration with other agencies and a careful examination of scientific evidence has landed on the side of perpetuating stereotypes. As Craig Klugman, PhD, says in his post on Bioethics.net, the FDA’s solution does not create “a donation system that assesses real risk, [rather than] perceived moral panic risk.” The FDA’s proposal has inspired the Celibacy Challenge, a satirical national petition pointing out the flaws.

This story, for me, is about not just a bioethics issue, nor just a civil rights issue – though it is both of those. It is also about science coming in last place. It is about stereotypes preventing us from good solutions. With this blood donor rule – both the old and the new – we are saying that we would prefer to have fewer lives saved rather than believing what biological science clearly shows us.

I sincerely hope that my grandchildren will laugh about this someday. For today, I’m sorry for anyone who needs and cannot get blood because there weren’t enough “acceptable” donors.

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