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Giving my very lifeblood for skepticism at #SkepTech

Oh man, SkepTech was a blast this weekend. Maybe a bit TOO jam-packed with epicness, though; such that I ended up missing several panels just getting food or, say, giving blood.

Yesterday I gave blood for the first time ever. It’s something I’ve always meant to do, but every time there was a blood drive right there in my face to remind me, I had been sick recently, or had just gotten a tattoo retouch done, so I couldn’t. But this time, at SkepTech, I had the opportunity I’d been waiting for, so I took it.

But it was also called to my attention that there were many at the convention who could not, nor could ever, under the current regulations.

(Potential trigger warnings for pictures of my blood)

Yeah, yeah, I could always have headed right over to the Red Cross and done it at any time. Out of sight, out of mind. But I was glad to have the chance to fix that oversight this weekend. I was well taken care of, given lots of juice and pretzels (sadly, no pudding cup to round out my 12-year-old-self’s standard lunch complement), and a very nice and thorough phlebotomist drained a pint out of me. (That’s 473 millilitres.)

My arm, with needle, drawing blood

I also caused something of a DEEP RIFT between two of the phlebotomists, who argued vehemently about whether or not I’d beaten the drive’s best time to that point. The best time on record was 5:08, and I had squeezed out my pint in either 5:04 or 5:09, depending on which timekeeping device they referred to. (If anyone’s reading this who gave blood and you have a better time, post it!)

During the questionnaire portion, I was more than mildly put out with the question asking if you were male and have ever had sex — even just once — with a man, since 1970. I completely understand the need to pre-filter the blood taken in case there’s a high risk group that might have HIV, but seriously, asking if you’ve used a needle outside a medical scenario with a doctor on hand is a hell of a better tell as to whether or not you’ve been exposed to HIV or any other blood-borne diseases. Men who’ve had sex with men (MSMs) are outright banned in the States from donating blood. Canada is no better in that respect. Britain at least allows MSMs to donate after a twelve month deferral period. This is better, but not the most progressive stance taken worldwide. It makes me much more motivated to give blood when I can, in fact. Someone has to make up that unnecessary shortfall.

But what I don’t get is the fact that they took a bunch of extra blood for testing the donation before putting it in the pool, so they’re already sinking the resources into testing that blood right now.

A pint... and a bit extra on the side

So, since being gay doesn’t actually introduce you to any more risk of HIV than being straight from what I can tell (especially if your sexual contact was safe!), this is probably a holdover of the prejudices of the time when AIDS first became a recognized global problem. You know the ones — that said it was a gay man’s disease. The same falsehoods that propagated hand in hand with that you could get HIV from a toilet seat or from kissing someone with the disease. All stuff well debunked now. And completely ignoring the fact that women are actually disproportionately prone to getting it and not getting proper treatment for it in areas where AIDS is prevalent, for many of the same reasons they’re already disadvantaged in those same areas, according to the World Health Organization (that well-known misandrist propaganda site).

So since you’re not actually pre-screening out the more likely victims of HIV, what purpose does this ban actually have now? Are gays actually disproportionately more likely to end up with a sexually-transmitted infection of any sort? Are they more prone to getting STIs that aren’t screened for by the blood tests? Are those blood tests more prone to false negatives, than false positives? No option speaks well if there’s not an actual issue, backed by evidence, that they’re trying to screen against!

If you’re not a gay male, and if you aren’t a needle user or haven’t had a tattoo or sickness recently, you should feel doubly motivated to donate, to make up the shortfall in donor blood. If you have the privilege to be able to give blood, you should take the opportunity, because it benefits us all. And if you can fix the biases, predicated on lacks of evidence, do that too. Donating blood saves lives, and doesn’t even take very long to do. Probably will hardly inconvenience you at all, either, if you’re relatively hale.

(Though honestly, I really wish I had had a chance to have more than a tiny glass of the Dark Horse Plead The 5th Imperial Stout at RePUBlic. I was already pushing it with my own alcohol tolerances and with the admonition to avoid booze for 24 hrs after donating, but dammit, it was amazing beer. Try it if you can.)

Comments

  1. daviddurant says

    All you need to do now is put a reminder in your calendar to donate every quarter rather than just as SkepTech every year :-).

    I’m in the UK and in the very annoying position of being banned for life (currently) from giving blood because I had a blood transfusion outside of the UK. Even though my operation was in Australia at a top rated hospital it’s apparently too risky so after 30+ donations I’m now out of luck. I don’t understand why since I’m sure that testing must be done for absolute safety since people will no doubt lie anyway.

  2. Ulysses says

    I’m not allowed to give blood in the US because I spent over three months in the UK after 1980. The concern is bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BCE).

  3. Rob says

    @daviddurant
    Oh the irony. New Zealanders who lived in the UK for more than six months between 1980 1996, or who have had a blood transfusion in the UK during that period, cannot give blood in NZ because the risk of CJD is seen as too great to tolerate. Not sure what the risk factor in blood from Australia would be.

  4. says

    I stopped giving blood when they banned those of us who has eaten beef in the UK during the BSE panic. OK, that made some sense but I went over to ask about it when I was at skeptech and the big sign said I was disqualified if I’d been out of the US in the last 12 months. Well, that sucks – I haven’t been a year without going out of the country since I was born (and I was travelling internationally in utero) my blood is permanently rejected? :(

  5. says

    And completely ignoring the fact that women are actually disproportionately prone to getting it and not getting proper treatment for it in areas where AIDS is prevalent, for many of the same reasons they’re already disadvantaged in those same areas, according to the World Health Organization (that well-known misandrist propaganda site).

    I found myself in an argument on Facebook with folks who were perfectly okay with MSM being banned from donating, because apparently all of the anal sex they do is AIDS-soaked and all of the gay men engage in risky behaviors. When I tried to explain how that was actually kinda homephobic, stupid and wrong, the response I got was “Well, that’s the way it is. They should be less risky if they want to give blood.” *headdesk*

    What’s really maddening is that by the logic of “most likely to be carrying the HIV/AIDS in their blood”, it would make sense (in the way that doesn’t make any sense at all) to ban African-American women as well as all of the gay and bi men, since our rate of infection has skyrocketed here in the States.

    Or, you can test all of the blood you get. Which the ARC already does. *headdesk*

  6. Aratina Cage says

    It’s just another facet of how gay & bi men are discriminated against in the USA. Welcome to Amurikah! I’ve never been able to give blood myself due to that anti-gay restriction, but I know of gay men who told me they just lie and give it anyway. Lifting this ban on gay and bi men is another necessary step in gaining equal citizenship in the USA.

  7. Schala says

    If you’re not a gay male, and if you aren’t a needle user or haven’t had a tattoo or sickness recently, you should feel doubly motivated to donate, to make up the shortfall in donor blood. If you have the privilege to be able to give blood, you should take the opportunity, because it benefits us all.

    I’m a trans woman and I think my hormone intake itself disqualifies me. If not, then my being a trans woman who has sex with a man probably does (even though I could hide that).

    Because of their active discrimination, I would never give blood. On the contrary to what you suggest, I would boycott them rather than support them more.

  8. M, Supreme Anarch of the Queer Illuminati says

    The blood-from-MSM ban seems like a case of “we get to be treated based on individual circumstances, but they are defined by whatever feature we use to identify an out-group.” Purely-heterosexual men are evaluated for blood donation risk based on individual history; gay men are defined as a homogeneous high-risk mass. Sure, MSM in high-wealth industrialized countries are as a group more likely to be HIV-positive, due to a range of factors (historic accident, sociology and psychology of gender and sexuality in most Western cultures, the biology-based fact that it’s easier to catch most STDs from a male partner than from a female one — meaning lesbians are a lower-risk donation pool than heterosexuals), but it breaks down on the individual level.

    Based on my own sexual and (lack of) IV drug history, my regular tests whenever I’ve been sexually active (because, sure, I’m strict about protection but another level of checking helps me be extra-confident), etc., I’m statistically a lower risk than many heterosexuals who are allowed to give blood. But since, for the people setting the regulations, MSM aren’t individuals, they’ll take higher-risk heterosexual over lower-risk MSM blood. (At least I don’t have one of the rare and high-demand blood types. That would add an extra level of frustration, because I would be all about keeping the supply for transfusion as robust as possible.)

  9. hoary puccoon says

    Re Shala @ 7–

    I understand how insulting you find the rules. But boycotting the blood banks doesn’t hurt them nearly as much as it hurts people who have an operation or accident and need a transfusion.

  10. Schala says

    It sends a message that this is no way to treat people.

    You might say trade unions hurt consumers, but in the end, strikes are often for the greater good.

    The end justifies the means when the means are boycotting people who promote injustice. I’ll also promote boycotts against the salvation army when they use stupid christian discriminatory attitudes in their charity work, even if it might hurt charity benefactors some.

  11. fastlane says

    Funny you should post this, I’m off to give blood right now! My employer organizes a blood drive every month, at different locations around the facility, maybe even more than 1/month.

  12. captainahags says

    @Schala #8 So, you’re willing to cut off a supply of something that people need to live in order to… tell the blood banks they’re not treating people right?

  13. Schala says

    @Schala #8 So, you’re willing to cut off a supply of something that people need to live in order to… tell the blood banks they’re not treating people right?

    They’re the ones being asses about who they can get blood from. They can always change that, there would be no problem.

  14. captainahags says

    @ Schala
    Yeah, and those people who die because they needed blood should have made sure they chose to get theirs from a more progressive bank. Inconsiderate assholes.

  15. Schala says

    If the blood bank is on a shortage and estimates it’s due to their stupid policy, they will change it, and voila, there, done.

    Blame the perpetrator (the blood banks), not the victims (the MSM people). The banks have all the power, ball in their court. They can unilaterally change their thing tomorrow morning.

  16. lochaber says

    I’ve gotta back Schala here –

    if giving blood is so important, then the organization that draws up the requirements for doing so can give those requirements a once-over and updating.

    The current criteria are pretty absurd. If they wanted to be rational about it, they should make some blanket statement like no unprotected sex in the past x months or so.

    This is just another way to second-class LGBT folk, while hiding under the banner of ‘safety’. And all of this is excused because so many people rank the potential of saving lives over the real harm done by discrimination.

    I accept that donated blood is a very important thing, but I don’t accept that there is a legitimate reason for excluding a large number of individuals based on bigoted policy. Unfortunately, I think there is going to have to be a severe cost associated with those bigoted policies before they are reconsidered.

  17. says

    Those of you blaming the blood banks themselves for these regulations are wrong. From the FDA’s website:

    Over a period of years, FDA has progressively strengthened the overlapping safeguards that protect patients from unsuitable blood and blood products:
    Blood donors are now asked specific and very direct questions about risk factors that could indicate possible infection with a transmissible disease. This “up-front” screening eliminates approximately 90 percent of unsuitable donors.
    FDA requires blood centers to maintain lists of unsuitable donors to prevent the use of collections from them.
    Blood donations are tested for seven different infectious agents.

    So the problem is the governmental direction given to the FDA. This can be changed at the political level. Stop blaming the blood banks themselves. Stop cutting off someone else’s nose to spite an entirely other third party’s face by depriving people who need blood of it because the government is traditionally homophobic and unwilling to predicate their rules on science.

  18. Schala says

    Oh and your FDA thing doesn’t say to outright exclude men who had sex with men, only to test it for risk factors and all (which they do, with other questions).

    Men who had sex with men are probably not in that 90 percent (or they’re a tiny fraction of it).

    Straight people can have AIDS, gay people can not have AIDS. Treat people individually.

  19. Randomfactor says

    I was at skeptech and the big sign said I was disqualified if I’d been out of the US in the last 12 months.

    I’ve been asked that question in the past. It’s not an automatic disqualification, they just want to know WHERE you went. Some destinations do disqualify you, others don’t. At least that was my experience.

    Jason, thank you. I’m A+ in more ways than one, closing in on eight gallons.

  20. sobe says

    Canada doesn’t depend on the FDA, same policy anyways.

    It’s the same story though. In Canada, it is something determined by Health Canada. The blood bank, in this case Héma-Québec, did request a modification in that regulation and are waiting on Health Canada’s response. I’m glad these regulations are being questionned…now if they would only change them. It would be evidence based, so…come on!

  21. erinmcc says

    Schala @ #16
    “Blame the perpetrator (the blood banks), not the victims (the MSM people).”

    im not sure the MSM in this case are suffering any actual consequences, unless you consider the lack of juice and a cookie a consequence. the actual victims would be those people who are harmed due to lack of available blood supply were a significant number of people to boycott giving blood. and since injury doesnt discriminate, those victims would also include gays.

    so boycotting giving blood in support of MSM people would hurt MSM people.

    im not saying its a decent policy, its most definitely discriminatory and should be changed. but a boycott wouldnt hurt the people who make the policy, it would hurt innocents who had no say in the matter, and therefore isnt exactly the most effective or morally superior approach.

  22. Schala says

    im not saying its a decent policy, its most definitely discriminatory and should be changed. but a boycott wouldnt hurt the people who make the policy, it would hurt innocents who had no say in the matter, and therefore isnt exactly the most effective or morally superior approach.

    It might not be the morally superior approach, but I consider it morally sound, and of a “end justify the means”, given the blood banks have unilateral power there.

    I’m not threatening to kill a country’s economy if they don’t stop a war of defense (ie they were attacked). I’m threatening to weaken a blood bank’s coverage if they don’t stop bigoted attitudes, which they started (and yeah Health Canada *owns* the damn banks, so it’s them too).

    It’s also more effective than a position of “too bad, but doing anything might hurt people” that amounts to hoping against the odds with zero pressure.

    I’m sure same-sex marriage would have been legal everywhere if we didn’t protest for it, and just hoped attitudes changed on their own.

  23. says

    Schala (late to the party, I know) – you’re not threatening to kill a country’s economy, you’re threatening to kill _people_. It’s not like threatening to boycott a business, where a loss of profits might make shareholders less happy – a lack of blood means that life saving operations don’t happen, or ERs find themselves too short on blood to save injured victims.

    I make a point to object to the MSM disqualifier every time I donate, but it is morally unsound to advocate withdrawal of support when it might cost lives – particularly when the discrimination you’re protesting is against people who _also_ want to save those lives.

    It’s also worth noting that if, actuarially, MSM are still a high-risk group, disqualifying them early makes sense. Same as people whose mother or grandmother was born in Mexico (another disqualifying factor). A single unit of blood costs ~$200, with tests, centrifuging, storage, transport, and all the equipment used for extraction and infusion. By _not_ taking blood from groups that are legitimately higher-risk, money can be better spent to help more people.

    Comparing this to same-sex marriage also seems like unnecessary hyperbole.

  24. Unphysicalism says

    Are MSM a higher risk group in statistical terms? If so, is the probability of false negatives in blood testing reasonably high? Keep in mind that a 99% accurate test can have a counter-intuitively high probability for false positives, depending on other factors. 99% accurate doesn’t mean that, given a negative, the chance it’s false is 1%. The conditional probabilities can be very counter-intuitive.

    I know I can still donate, because I’ve never had sex and probably never will. Something like 50% of all HIV patients in the US are MSM, even though MSM are between 2-5% of the population. I consider that too high of a risk to expose myself to, even with prophylaxis. Gay men are also notorious for promiscuity, and even if I were monogamous, the probability of cheating, including unsafe cheating, is unacceptably high. I have no interest in sex with women, so my options are basically zero.

    So actually, I’m not discriminated against, despite being gay. I’m fat (extra blood volume), I’m a virgin, I have high iron, and I’m O+. I’m almost the ideal candidate for donation, as long as I remain celibate. I certainly have no intentions of being active as long as HIV is still an untreatable death sentence. If it’s ever cured, who knows?

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