Medical safety should always take precedence over societal progression. But in some cases, they can go hand in hand.
Such is the case with the federal Food and Drug Administration's removal last week of a lifetime ban on homosexuals donating blood. The ban was put in place during the height of the AIDS epidemic of the early 1980s, when there was an unacceptable risk of blood being tainted with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, from that particular group of people.
The new FDA restrictions now allow homosexuals to donate blood, as long as they haven't had sex with a same-sex partner within a year. The FDA says the one-year exclusion is necessary to ensure that the blood supply remains safe.
But some gay advocates say the ban is still discriminatory in that it assumes all homosexuals are promiscuous, don't use adequate protection, and potentially have HIV. The policy, they say, doesn't consider gay couples who are in monogamous relationships and have tested clean. These individuals, they argue, are at no more risk of contaminating the blood supply than sexually active heterosexuals with random partners. And they're right.
But as we said, medical safety should always take precedence over societal progression. Just because our nation has grown in the acceptance of the same-sex community doesn't mean the medical profession should automatically drop its concerns over blood donations by homosexuals. The health of blood recipients must come first over someone’s desire to donate blood.
Federal statistics show that in 2011, gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men accounted for 54% of all people living with HIV infection and for 63% of all new infections, by far the highest of any group. Those facts can’t be dismissed.
Still, medical testing of blood for such diseases has advanced to the point where HIV infections can be detected in as little as nine days after a person has become infected. That's a far cry less than a year.
The United States should maintain the one-year ban for now and follow the lead of France, which is removing its ban in stages. That country will allow plasma donations only to men who have had sex with one man within four months, and the donation will be placed in quarantine for 2.5 months to ensure it's safe. They'll then review the results of donations of new donors in 2017, and proceed from there.
The public's health should be the utmost priority. But with medical advances in treatment and detection of HIV, social advances can be made along with it.