Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Got Blood?

My SX column for the week.

But before we begin today's sermon: Check out John's site, where he has already posted on the same issue, and already been met with vitriolic resistance. Both are work readong for a comparison of hysteria against common sense. I'll let you decide which one is which.

Once again, Tasmania could be the small island from where emerges long-overdue reform for the civil rights of queer people. Once again, it could be the mainland resisting the change and having to play catch-up later.

Launceston gay man Michael Cain is launching two legal challenges against a policy of the Red Cross which stipulates that any man who has been sexually active with another man within the last twelve months is prohibited from donating blood. Cain claims this ban is discrimininatory, unnecessary and potentially putting lives at risk, given that blood supplies in Australia are so critically low.

Red Cross argues that the ban is based on the statistically-higher incidence of some blood-borne diseases among gay men, specifically HIV, and also because of the “window period” whereby diseases may be incubating inside a potential gay male donor while he is donating blood he believes and which tests show is otherwise clean.

There’s little doubt gay men, as a sub-population, are at greater risk of HIV infection, and Red Cross would likely have this policy in place due less to a philosophy of homophobia than safeguarding against potential litigation should someone contract HIV during a transfusion. But in light of the fact that all donated blood is now automatically screened for all blood-borne diseases, and the technology for this procedure is more advanced every year, the Red Cross policy by enforcement implies gay men are incapable of practising safe sex, and, in the words of Cain, that “gay equals disease”. The window period issue is relevant to any sexually-active donor, queer or straight, and a potential risk for the Red Cross regardless.

I am sure I’m not the only office worker who has had to turn down the eager Red Cross representative signing up employees for the latest blood drive, and having to explain that your blood is not “suitable” is hardly a pleasant experience even when you are completely certain of your HIV status. It is infuriating to see the many advertisements and campaigns designed to shame people into making the time to donate blood, and knowing the reason you have not done so is not because of idleness, like your heterosexual counterparts, but because of an out-dated discriminatory policy.

This year, ACON reported a drop of 14% in HIV diagnosis among gay men in NSW. Although even one new diagnosis is one too many, it is obvious we are heeding the safe sex message and adjusting our practices accordingly.

Gay and bisexual men are not banned from donating blood in either Switzerland or Spain, so why Australia? It is unacceptable for the Red Cross to make any gay man feel “dirty” or “diseased”, as Cain claimed to have felt, just as it is unacceptable for any organisation to jeopardise people’s lives by denying the Australian public a significant pool of potential blood.


At 4/8/05 4:59 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Sam, I think you're Fab too. Check New Scientist mag. 23 July 2005 pg33 for an insight into blood donation screening. JTooirrational.

At 4/8/05 8:35 pm, Blogger Miss Ember said...

Hello hello,

Other people who aren't allowed to donate blood include anyone - gay, straight, librarian, birarian - who lived in England for more than 6 months (I think) from 1980 to 1996. This is due to the risk of Mad Moo Cow disease, which anyone chewing on a Wimpy Burger in the 80s could have picked up.

So Miss Ember cannae donate her precious ruby liquid neither :(


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