Life As I Know It: Blood Donation Issue Reaches FDA’s Jill | Lifestyles
I gave my first pint of blood in the fall of 1980 and 280 times, and counting, since then I’ve pulled up a stretcher and rolled up a sleeve.
It’s a lot of blood, sure, but it’s also a lot of this whole process. From measuring vital statistics to stopping at the canteen for juice and cookies, I have the routine in hand, including analyzing the questionnaire.
The question sheet?
Yes. At first, there were none. You walked in, checked your vitals, and left your blood. Beyond making you feel good, I don’t recall many other questions being asked. At least, not until the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. When it became a thing, there were more questions being asked.
And they ask them again.
In the 80s and 90s there were a lot of questions about sex between men which over the years have been reduced a bit, but there are still two questions left on the donor questionnaire. Men are asked if they have had sex with another man in the past four months. The other question asks women, again, in the past four months, if they have had sex with a man who has had sex with another man.
My curiosity led me to wonder why they still ask for them? Obviously, AIDS and HIV still exist, but modern medicine has made tremendous progress in detecting and treating them. Surely the test of his presence exists? Why, 30 years after the fact, are we still targeting gay men for these specific issues?
I asked the folks at Versiti, the blood collection facility I’ve donated to for the past 20 years. They understood my concern but had no response other than telling me that they are getting their questionnaire instructions from the Food and Drug Administration.
Yes, the FDA. They only think of two things, don’t they? Food and drugs. And it’s a bureaucracy with maybe more employees than our county has citizens; mostly scientists with little patience for guys like me. Shall I just call them and say that Rob from 231 would like to ask a few questions about some of their questions?
I should and I did.
Guessing mine would likely end up in a black hole of slow, if ever, returned calls, I called and left a message anyway. Well, to my surprise, an hour and a half later “Jill from the FDA” called me back to ask about my concerns.
It was a brief but nonetheless memorable conversation. She fully understood that I was asking questions on what she called “MSM” questions. Men who have sex with men are always a concern for the FDA because, although tests exist to detect the presence of substances linked to HIV and AIDS, these substances often do not appear for a while, hence a postponement of three months. is the current mandate of those who answer both of these questions in the affirmative. For reference, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, a lifetime deferment was the mandate.
During the conversation I alluded to the issue having the appearance of being homophobic and “Jill from the FDA” assured me that they shared my feelings and were trying to act on them. She also thanked me for reaching out and using the FDA as a source of information.
In the end, the story was about asking the question. I could have easily “done my own research” and some might think I was foolish to trust someone from the “government”. To these skeptics, I simply ask that they first give a few pints of blood, then doubt me.