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Are Blood Donor Requirements Too Restrictive?

Brennah Lee, Staff Writer

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Blood donors are in high demand, yet the FDA keeps outdated limitations on donor requirements, creating an insufficient blood supply, and causing protests from the LGBT community and blood donation services.

Everyone has a different reason to donate. “Some people have a very altruistic nature, and are committed to donating on a regular basis to pay it forward, others have been touched in some way by blood donations…perhaps they, a family member, or loved one’s life was saved by a blood donor” said Ms. Kristen Lane, a Marketing Lead at Central Blood Bank. “It’s a good thing to do…it saves lives” said Mrs. Sarah Shangraw, the Sponsor for the Interact Club. “It’s on my bucket list, I’m excited for the snacks” said Ms. Lizzie Emch, a first-time blood donor and Co-President of the Interact Club.

However, even though millions donate, a majority choose not to. ”Some say that because of their busy schedules they don’t have time. Some say that they don’t like needles. Some just flat out refuse” said Ms. Lane. Some people, however, are not able to donate blood if they’re eligible.

In the United States, only 38% of the population is eligible to donate, and less than 10% of that amount actually does as stated by the Central Blood Bank. “Some feel like there’s nothing they can do to make a difference…donating can save the lives of three people” said Ms. Lane The number of people who donate in a year is approximately 6.8 million people said the AABB. “We never have enough donors” said Ms. Lane. Every two seconds, someone is in need of blood, and 4.5 million people would die each year without a transfusion according to the American Red Cross.

The question, is that if old and now unnecessary restrictions were lifted, would it help blood donation centers meet their quota and alleviate the demands for blood donors? Would more people donate if they were eligible to?

  • Due to the risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease or Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease, people are not allowed to ever give blood in the US if any of these apply. If the donor spent three or more months cumulatively in the United Kingdom from 1980 through 1996, or spent five years or more cumulatively in Europe from 1980 to the present.
  • There may also be restrictions related to mad cow disease on military personnel, a civilian military employee, or a dependent of a member of the US military whom spent six months or more at a US military base in any of the following countries from 1980-1996: Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Italy, or Greece.
  • Donors are also not allowed to give blood if they have received a blood transfusion in the United Kingdom or France since 1980. Mad cow disease is fatal in humans within 13 months of symptoms occurring, so why would restrictions still be in place from the 20th century?

Another even more controversial limitation, is the one on sexually active gay men, which has outraged the LGBT community. There used to be a lifetime ban on homosexuals who had had intercourse after 1977, which lasted for 32 years. This was later replaced on Dec. 21, 2015 by the FDA, who was responding to protests. This changed the regulations to a 12-month deferral for gays and bisexuals who have had sexual relations with a male in the last year.

This ban was set in place to prevent the spread and contraction of HIV and AIDS. However, there is new technology that tests donated blood for communicable diseases. New Nucleic Acid Amplification Testing (NAT) can detect HIV within a 9 to 11-day window period of the donor becoming infected with the disease. The Antibody Test is also available. If such testing is available, then why would such a long window of deferral be necessary?

The ban includes gays who are HIV-negative, or consistently practice safe sex in a monogamous relationship. In the meantime, a heterosexual man who has had unprotected sex with multiple partners may donate. This strongly implies that deferrals and restrictions more centered on a preference regarding sexuality rather than the donor’s participation in high-risk-behavior that could result in said donor contracting a disease.

The protests of the gay ban settled down for a while after the permanent restriction was repealed, but it resumed after many gays were turned down from donating blood after the shooting in Orlando. After the incident at the gay nightclub Pulse, on Jun. 12, 2016, in which 49 people were killed and 53 wounded. There was a rumor that was spread on the internet that the ban had been lifted, and many homosexuals wished to help out their fellow men, but were denied the privilege when OneBlood confirmed the rumor false.

The FDA states that gay men are the highest-risk blood donor category along with people who’ve spent more than five years in a country that has mad cow disease. Is this correct, considering that Malaria and the Zika Virus are on the rise? Is this a form of discrimination, or is the FDA simply trying to ensure the certainty of blood safety? Will they choose to remove these bans in the future? Will new technology and information discovered limit the number of restrictions that need to be in place?

Stone Bridge had a blood drive in the auditorium Nov. 18, which was sponsored by Inova as well as the Interact and Medical Clubs. “We’ve had over 80 slots filled…they want to get the shirt” said Mrs. Shangraw.

For those eligible to donate, some upcoming blood drives include: one for North County Government Center Nov. 25, another for Leesburg Public Safety Center Nov. 26, one for Juniper Networks Dec. 1, and another one on Dec. 2 for Loudoun County Fire and Rescue. If you’re looking even farther ahead, there is another one on Dec. 17 for the Leesburg Public Safety Center and others on Dec. 29 for the Caesars Public Library and Reston Hospital.


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Are Blood Donor Requirements Too Restrictive?