Banning “Bad” Blood: Reconsidering Blood Donation Policies
juxtaposition Global Health Magazine / December 9, 2015
By: Jerico Espinas, JD/MBA’19
On November 4, France changed its blood donation policies by lifting the lifetime ban that prevented men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood. In 2016, MSM will be able to donate blood and plasma if they have not engaged in sexual activity with another man for 12 months and 4 months respectively. The decision sparked a discussion over national blood donation policies, which can vary significantly between countries. France adheres to the 12-month deferral policy followed in countries like Australia, the Netherlands and Japan. However, some countries, such as Spain and Italy, have shorter deferral periods of several months, while countries like Germany, Belgium, and the United States have imposed lifetime bans. Canada lifted its lifetime ban in 2013 and replaced it with a 5-year deferral period.
During the 1980s, countries reacted negatively towards MSM during the outbreak of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Many were fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, and publicly ridiculed in an attempt to ostracize a supposedly dangerous and infectious community. Additionally, many myths surrounded HIV/AIDS in popular culture, further heightening public fears about the epidemic. It was in this kind of environment that many cautious health policies, including the lifetime ban against blood donations by MSM, were widely instituted to ensure public safety. The ban was put in place when research showed that HIV could be contracted through blood transfusions, posing a significant risk for many already at-risk individuals.