OUTLAW THE LAW! Laws Banning the LGBTQ+ Community from Donation and Why They Don’t Make Sense Anymore!
-Nachiketa S R , 3rd Year MBBS ,
Vydehi Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre, Bangalore
For those of you who are new here, what does LGBTQ stand for? LGBTQ is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning. These terms are used to describe a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Members of the community have been prevented from donating blood/organs and multiple countries have enforced laws that ban LGBTQ+ members from donation! Why did these laws come into effect? Why do these laws not make sense anymore? Read on to find out!
Origin: How and why these laws came into effect!
The blood donation ban for men who have sex with men (MSM) was a restriction that prevented any man who had sex with another man, regardless of sexual orientation, from donating blood. Originating in 1983 during the height of the HIV and AIDS epidemic in the U.S., the policy was created as an emergency measure to prevent contamination of the U.S. blood supply by this deadly disease. The policy impacted MSM, women who have sex with MSM, and transgender people that could be considered MSM.
There are different laws pertaining to donation by the LGBTQ+ community in different countries. Countries that impose lifelong bans on gay and bisexual men donating blood include Croatia, Iceland, Malaysia, Slovenia, Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago and Ukraine.
At least 17 countries now have no restrictions, including Argentina, Italy, Russia, South Africa, Spain and, as of January this year, Hungary. Baby steps!
The Science Behind the Ban!
Why did the law come into force?
During the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the US in the 1980s, a considerable percentage of those who turned out to be HIV+ were men who have sex with men (MSM). This caused panic among the public and laws were imposed against blood and organ donation by MSM, irrespective of their sexual orientation. And this stigma has stuck with us ever since!
Moreover, during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, HIV testing was slower and less accurate, and officials were concerned that someone could be infected without showing up as HIV positive on a blood test. However, today, with tests such as ELISA, HIV can be detected in the blood within 9 days of contracting the virus.
Here’s why the law doesn’t make sense anymore!
It might have made sense back in the 80s when the tests for HIV weren’t accurate and reliable and there were high chances of false negative results which could have led to contamination of blood in the blood banks and could have aided in the spread of the disease. But, as of today, with advanced technology and well-equipped laboratories, not only is it easy to test for HIV, it is also possible to test for other Venereal Diseases(VD) such as syphilis, Hepatitis B, etc. and ensure safe organ/blood donation!
On a different note, there is a general awareness among the people about the importance of safe sex and the hazards of unprotected sex. There is also an idea about transmission of STDs in people’s minds.
Let us consider a scenario here: when a person walks into a blood bank/hospital as a donor, a myriad of tests are performed to ensure they are eligible to donate, which also includes HIV ELISA and STD profile. As long as the person is free of all diseases and is eligible to donate, how does the sexual orientation of that person even matter? When tests are being performed for a heterosexual person to be able to donate, might as well do the same for gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgender people and if they are free of diseases and they are the perfect match, might as well go ahead with the process of donation, irrespective of their sexual orientation! The stigma from the 80s should be dissolved! I think it’s pretty clear now as to why these laws don’t make sense anymore!
Here’s What India Has to Say!
A new survey in India has revealed that more than half of the participants said that they would not accept organ donations from LGBTQ donors.
The survey, conducted by Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance, in association with Karvy Insights among 1565 respondents, across 12 cities in India, revealed some disturbing facts about Indians’ homophobic perception of LGBTQ organ donors as well as organ donation in general.
Out of all the respondents, 56 percent said they would not agree to take organs from LGBTQ donors while 54 percent said LGBTQ persons should not be allowed to donate organs at all.
This is not the only time that the LGBTQ community has been stigmatized when it comes to healthcare. National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), the state-owned regulator of AIDS in India, classifies LGBTQ donors as high risk, meaning they are not allowed to donate blood for transfusions.
And guess why? It’s purely because of lack of awareness among the people, blind homophobia and sheer ignorance! Add to that the other bizarre superstitions among the people with respect to organ donation!
How do we get rid of this stigma? CREATE MORE AWARENESS! Campaigns, rallies, marches, seminars, CMEs, etc! I could honestly go on and on! A very important measure is inculcation of the right information about organ donation in the academic curriculum in schools and colleges. Instilling the right kind of thoughts in young minds goes a long way!