Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Friday 18 April 2008

Blood donations and the gay ban

I haven't donated blood in a long time, since about 1984 I think when I lived in Hong Kong - I used to donate regularly when I lived there (my blood is AB+, apparently in quite short supply). The UK and many other countries have banned blood donations from gays, however, since the 1980s in the immediate reaction to the new disease at the time HIV/AIDS, then effectively a death sentence - I think the ban then was probably justified.

However, things have moved on since then. Both in terms of the prognoses for people infected and methods of testing blood for infection. Nevertheless the ban remains in place and the petition this week for the blanket ban to be reviewed in Scotland seems to be receiving short shrift.

Whilst the blanket ban may have been justified in the mood of panic when HIV/AIDS was first identified in the early-mid 1980s I think it is more relevant now to question all donors about their sexual proclivities; of course promiscous gay men shouldn't donate blood, but nor should heterosexuals who indulge in unsafe sexual practices, or anyone who injects illegal drugs. Some gay men, myself included, have NEVER indulged in unsafe sexual practices - I have had many sexual partners over the years (very few in recent years), but it so happens that my own practices (since long before HIV/AIDS was first identified) make it highly unlikely that I could ever have contracted, far less passed on, the infection; call it fortuitous happenstance if you like, but that is a fact even if I don't make a practice of discussing my private life in intimate detail in this blog and I'm not about to start now. However the guidelines for blood donations are not interested in this (I could be lying is, I suppose, the attitude). However self-declared heterosexuals (married, two kids, etc) do not have to justify themselves, even the 'happily-married' donors who occasionally visit a prostitute or have a secret bi-sexual side.

And what about people who have been eating beef-burgers regularly for years, decades even? There is, from what I can see, no effective blood-screening test as yet for CJD, despite earlier claims that one might be developed soon, although it is recognised that having such a test would itself create huge problems.

Now, I have rambled on quite long enough - a very good summary of the issues is given by J Arthur MacNumpty and I agree with all he has written. I had thought I might just link to his post and leave it at that, but anyway I decided finally to do my own 'take' on the issue as well. Some of the other blog posts on the subject (well, one in particular!) have a high degree of prejudice and self-confessed ignorance (on this as on so many other subjects over the months when challenged; see comments), mixed in with a devotion to 'statistics' to mask the woolly thinking, that I have given up debating directly with this person on any matter even if his blog remains in my blogroll and I continue to read some of what he writes on occasion as 'entertainment'. Well, I really must stop now - I've descended into simple ad hominem; I generally try and remain respectful of the views of others, whatever I may think privately, but even I occasionally lose patience ...

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