There's some big news from the Netherlands: the country is easing restrictions on blood donation by gay and bisexual men. It's a long overdue change, and other countries, including the U.S., would do well to follow suit. However, the new rules don't lift all restrictions on blood donation by men who have sex with men, and many activists are saying that this change is far from enough.
Under the new policy, men who have had sex with other men in the past are not banned from donation. However, in order to donate blood, men who want to donate cannot have had sex with another man in the year prior to donating. "The new policy will remain unnecessarily discriminatory. This proposal provides too little, too late,” Tanja Ineke, chair of a Dutch LGBT rights group, told AT5, explaining that for most gay and bisexual men, the new policy still leaves them unable to donate.
Prior to the new rules, which were announced on Thursday, any man who had ever had sex with another man was forever barred from donating blood in the Netherlands. This specific prohibition on blood donation by men who have had sex with men — which exists not only in the Netherlands and the U.S. but in many other countries as well — was initially created as a response to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, since the virus first emerged among men who had sex with men.
Today, however, many feel that this lifetime ban on blood donation imposed by many countries is unfair — especially given the improved safeguards and more advanced screening techniques used on blood in the modern era, as well as the fact that AIDS and HIV are not only spread through sex between men. Which is why this lightened restriction is worth noting, even if it is still not enough.
The Netherlands is not the only country to have adapted this new, slightly improved policy. In England, Scotland, and Wales, gay and bi men can donate blood provided they haven't had sex with a man in a year, and in fact the FDA recently recommended that U.S. adopt this approach as well. Other countries, such as Argentina, have lifted their sexuality-based blood donation bans entirely.
Despite the fact that the current Netherlands ban on donations from men who have recently had sex with men does undoubtedly single out the LGBT community in a way other demographic groups are not subject to, it is nice to see these policies slowly changing around the world. And it's also necessary. Blood donation is dropping, and blood shortages are becoming more and more common. Here in the U.S., reserves of blood have dipped dangerously low multiple times in recent years, and many feel that lifting the ban on men who've had sex with men could make a big difference.
But it seems that for now, the most we can expect are baby steps. Still, it's better than nothing.