The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
Following a recent vote by the Department of Health and Human Services panel, which recommended that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reverse its policy banning men who have had sex with men (MSM) from donating blood, the FDA announced yesterday that it will be replacing its current indefinite deferral policy with a policy that allows MSM to give blood if they have not had sex with another man in the past year. While this change will allow some MSM who were ineligible to donate blood in the past to donate blood, this new policy still raises questions about judicious, equal treatment for MSM in this particular situation.
The Reform Jewish Movement’s advocacy on issues concerning LGBT equality is rooted in the concept that all human beings are created “b’tzelem Elohim,” in the Divine image (Genesis 1:27), and therefore all human beings, regardless of sexual orientation, should be treated equally. Inspired by this concept and the Jewish teaching that “one who saves one life it is though one has saved the universe” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5), Barbara Weinstein, Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism wrote a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg last summer, urging her to “explain why the [lifelong] ban is medically necessary or develop non-discriminatory, targeted policies that value the contributions of all those who wish to selflessly donate in order to save others’ lives.”
Currently, if you are a heterosexual person and have had sex with someone who might have HIV/AIDS, you must defer giving blood for one year. This deferral is different than the new one for MSM, which focuses only on the last time they had sex, not the risk level of their partners. In Barbara Weinstein’s letter, she stated that “the current ban may not adequately reflect risk factors associated with HIV beyond sexual orientation. Men and women who engage in unprotected sex with multiple partners face no delay or deferral, while a man who engages in protected, monogamous sex faces a lifetime ban.” While under this new policy, a man who engaged in “protected, monogamous sex” faces a year-long deferral instead of a lifelong ban, the underlying principle of this statement remains the same: this new policy continues to only consider sexual orientation as a risk factor as opposed to sexual practices.
Therefore, we hope that the FDA will continue to develop polices that are nondiscriminatory, and that value the contributions of all those who wish to selflessly donate in order to save others’ lives. A non-discriminatory targeted policy that evaluates one’s overall risk is the best way to ensure that blood donations are open to as many eligible healthy donors as possible while securing the safety of our blood supply.