Thursday, November 17, 2005

Settle, Gretels

OK, the debate on blood donation bans for men who've had sexual contact with other men in the last twelve months is getting really nasty.

I blogged and SXed (yes, in the true spirit of corporate language I'm choosing to make SX a verb) on this back in August and, admittedly, probably wouldn't have written the same article if the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO), Australian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM) and AIDS Council of NSW (ACON) had all come out in support of the ban back then. You have to assume these people know what they're talking about.

There's a lot more to this issue and it's being unnecessarily clouded, by random attacks on Rodney Croome in the endless NSW v Tasmania battle, perhaps not so ideal choices of phrase by Croome in his support of Michael Cain's case and the omnipresent boogeyman of "discrimination".

My theory is that one of the reasons peak HIV/AIDS bodies - especially ACON - support the ban is maybe they are looking long-term, to avoid unfortunate possibility that were the ban to be lifted, a not-so-honest HIV positive man could donate blood claiming he did not have the virus, infect a donatee and boom, ammunition is created for the anti-queer lobby to argue that gay men literally seek to destroy society (not to mention liability issues for Red Cross). This certainly seems to move in line with ACON president Adrian Lovney's claim that "some gay men are not entirely frank about their sexual history" - which, no, is not a pleasant thing to hear but does sadly have a ring of truth to it sometimes.

Or it could just be that, as the Croome detractors are arguing, donating blood is not a "right" in the same way access to equal civil and legislative rights is, and you can't avoid the elephant in the room that, for a small percentage of the total population, gay men or men fucking other men do constitute a disproportionately high proportion of the HIV-infected population.

But surely some of Croome's counter-arguments are valid, especially that this ban as supported by ACON is in conflict with the organisation's "talk test test trust" policy, whereby monogamous gay men in a committed relationship can stop using condoms after the three-month window period if they're both shown to be HIV-negative?

And the reality is testing procedures have advanced significantly - the NAT test can detect HIV infection within 9 days.

That's why I have a suggestion, a compromise I reckon can work between gay men and Red Cross.

I go into Red Cross today, claim honestly I am HIV negative and have a sample of blood extracted and tested.

I sign a statutory declaration to the effect that I will abstain from any kind of male-male sexual activity for a period of three months.

I return to Red Cross three months later, having stayed true to my legal obligation, have my blood tested again and it is shown to be HIV negative and therefore totally appropriate for donation purposes.

Yes, it's extra administration for the Red Cross, but they are the ones insisting they're chronically short of blood and need more people to donate. They're covered from possible liability by a stat dec. We male-on-male actioners are making a fairly substantial sacrifice - not to mention risking significant gaol time should we go against this imposed legality - so we can't be accused of arbitrarily demanding rights without responsibilities.

Red Cross is prepared to take heterosexual donors at their word of their HIV status. If they're not prepared to do that with us, fine - make us legally as well as ethically accountable.

I'm sure this idea has flaws, but I'm just trying to come up with some kind of solution instead of bitter recriminations.


At 17/11/05 7:25 pm, Blogger JahTeh said...

Everyone giving blood should be asked the same questions and all should sign a stat dec. and all donations tested for HIV. None of us really know if we are HIV negative unless we get tested.

At 18/11/05 8:25 am, Anonymous Jason said...

Many years ago, I was rejected from donating blood because I had once had oral sex (with no ejaculation) with a straight man. (Sadly this was about the limit of my gayness at the time!) Apparently if I had been female, I would not have been asked to elaborate on my activity and my blood would have been accepted anyway. (Perhaps I should have not mentioned any of this to the Blood Bank and just given my blood knowing in my heart that my blood was OK.)

At 18/11/05 8:46 am, Blogger bee-eric said...

All the arguments used to block gay men from giving blood are poor at best. To summarise:
1. "some gay men are not entirely frank about their sexual history" - it may be true, but is it just gay men that lie? This is not a group of the community that is any more or less honest that the rest.
2. Gay men are more likely to have/be exposed to HIV - maybe, but so are those who identify as straight but have (secretive) gay sex can also fall into this category. And they are VERY unlikely to be honest about their activities.
3. Further to 2. if we were going to exclude certain groups of people based on an increased chance of them having HIV, then you could be extremely controversial and say you should exclude black people for the same reason (looking at things globally)

Sure, there are a lot of reasons that prevent people from donating, travel in certain countries, having recently had a tattoo etc, but this is EXACTLY what should be factors. That is, behaviour that puts you at risk. NOT your sexuality.

At 18/11/05 4:59 pm, Anonymous bazza said...

It would appear that the Red Cross are only reading statistics and not the individual donor. Surely in this day and age, this so called professional body are able to update their testing procedures. As what I see is that its not who you are, but what you are. Now thats discrimination !

At 18/11/05 5:12 pm, Blogger Sam said...

I guess that's why I'm thinking of an approach that works within that framework bazza - an acknowledgment that we are in a high-risk group and therefore need to be treated differently, but also giving us an opportunity to work around that without being banned altogether but also not automatically assuming giving blood is an inalienable right (which it's not).

There does have to be great sensitivity in this issue. The lives of people and prevention of further HIV infection is ultimately more important than earning another tick in our community's list of achievements.

BUT: I must admit I find it astounding that even if a gay man is prepared to go to the lenths I have outlined, to prove without any doubt his blood is HIV free, his blood will still be denied. That just don't seem right.

At 18/11/05 5:33 pm, Blogger Jeremy said...

I sign a statutory declaration to the effect that I will abstain from any kind of male-male sexual activity for a period of three months.

Hang on, if you were in a monogamous relationship and both of you were tested and signed the stat dec, why should you be required to abstain?

At 21/11/05 9:33 am, Blogger Sam said...

The appearance of propriety, MrL.

One of the issues at hand is that possible gay male donors might be less than 100% honest and it could be argued that in the situation you've suggested, one of the partners plays around without wanting his bf to find out.

Like I've said I'm sure my compromise has flaws but I still think it's an improvement on banning us all together (or having to abstain for 12 months) or giving us complete carte blanche to donate.


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