In the midst of all the bad press for the Obama administration, they've actually pulled off something great: Soon, it won’t be considered a crime for HIV-positive Americans to be organ donors. A bill to end a 25-year ban on HIV-positive individuals’ ability to donate organs, the HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act, was given final approval by the House of Representatives Tuesday. After President Obama signs in the legislation, transplanting organs between Americans who are HIV-positive will become legal, as long as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) concludes it’s safe under scientific guidelines.
More good news: this was an bipartisan effort, brought forward by Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer from California and Republican Tom Coburn from Oklahoma.
“Our scientific understanding of AIDS is much better than when this research ban was established,” Coburn said. “Those infected with HIV are now living much longer and, as a consequence, are suffering more kidney and liver failures. If research shows positive results, HIV positive patients will have an increased pool of donors.”
This is a big step forward when it comes to greater acceptance of HIV-positive Americans, and will help the destigmatization of HIV and AIDS — but the United States still has a way to go when it comes to equality for donors. In August, Bustle reported on how gay people haven’t been able to legally donate blood in America since 1983:
National blood donations are down by 10 percent at present, and there are shortages across the country. Of all Americans that are eligible to donate blood, only five percent do so regularly — and that number shrinks more every year. Older generations are more likely to give blood, it turns out, whereas newer generations are not. Clearly, we have a problem.
The concern, proponents of the ban argue, is the window of time between contracting HIV and having it show up in the official blood test, which may be up to a few months. The gay community is statistically more likely to contract HIV — but so is the African-American community, and there’s certainly no such ban on that demographic donating. At present, any man who had had gay sex since 1977 isn’t allowed to donate. If the ban were lifted and new rules were enacted to shorten the period between unprotected sex and blood donation to a few months, that would almost completely eliminate that risk factor.
Countries such as Canada, Britain, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand have all adapted that policy. Because all forms of unprotected sex are counted the same under those rules, there is no discrimination against the gay community at all — which is entirely the point. At present, the message from the FDA is clear: that the gay community is promiscuous, disease-prone, and unsafe to contribute to the medical community. For their part, The Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers, and the American Medical Association have thrown their weight behind lifting the ban and changing policy.
You can sign this petition to stop the FDA from discriminating against gay men from donating blood in America here.