Do FDA Regulations Discriminate Against Homosexual Men?

Political correctness has run amok – with potentially deadly consequences. The folks at San Jose State University, in the suburbs of San Francisco, have banned further blood drives because of the Food and Drug Administration’s rule against accepting blood donations from men who have had sex with other men. The argument is that the FDA regulation discriminates against homosexual men and, thus, violates the school’s non-discrimination policy.

The school’s ban is meant to protest a rule whose intent is not to discriminate, but to protect public health. This is evidenced by the fact that there are also FDA rules against accepting blood donations from intravenous drug users – another identifiable segment of the population at extraordinary risk of HIV infection. Yet, SJSU officials do not protest that regulation as discriminatory. How could they when I.V. drug use cuts across all age, gender, and racial boundaries? In their rhetoric, the protesters refuse to acknowledge FDA statistics showing that homosexuals’ HIV risk is 60 times greater than heterosexuals’ or that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) counted 6,050 people who developed AIDS from HIV-tainted blood products before the regulations were put in place.

From a public health perspective, both regulations are not only prudent, they are absolutely necessary – as necessary as taxpayer supported safe sex education, free condoms, or needle exchange programs aimed at preventing transmission of HIV and other deadly infectious diseases. Even with these donor screening and blood testing regulations in place, the FDA estimates that 1,100 units of tainted blood still make it into the blood banks every year. If the outcome of infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis weren’t so dreaded, there might be some comfort in this relatively small number. But, AIDS has no cure, hepatitis B and C can destroy the liver, and death from all these diseases is neither pleasant nor swift. If you or your loved one is among 3.6 million who will receive a blood transfusion this year, any risk of infection and death from tainted blood (no matter how small) is unacceptable.

The officials at SJSU, however, seem to believe that the American public should accept that level of risk – and more. The FDA estimates 62,300 homosexuals would donate blood if the rule was lifted and subsequent testing cannot be relied upon to screen out tainted blood. They say that most HIV-contaminated blood that now reaches transfusion recipients comes from recently infected people who have not yet developed antibodies to the virus. Researchers say that HIV tests now in use detect only antibodies, which may take 25 days or more to show up. Even worse, some researchers now suggest that newly infected individuals are far more infectious than previously suspected.

To respond to such unreasonable protests and lift the regulations that prevent homosexual men from donating blood would substantially threaten the public health. In addition to the potential for more deaths each year from tainted blood, even more people will die because they refuse to accept the increased risk of HIV infection and forego lifesaving transfusion.

To open Pandora’s Box and unleash such misery and death on the American public, for no better reason than the appearance of political correctness, is simply reckless and incorrigible behavior. One can only hope that this irresponsible protest at SJSU will not spread to other schools or businesses. The FDA must remain diligent in its duty to protect Americans from this undeniable health risk. This is precisely why this agency exists – to protect the public health even when we don’t have the good sense to protect ourselves.