FDA policy casts out potential marrow donors in gay males

Last week, Williams hosted the MarrowThon, a bone marrow registry drive, and it seemed to be a huge success. I applaud Susannah Eckman ’11 for organizing such an event, as there are about 6,000 people in need of bone marrow transplants everyday, and there is a dire need to increase registries.

Unfortunately, I could not participate because I’m gay. I was shocked to learn this back in high school at a blood drive; the U.S Food and Drug Association (FDA) prohibits gay males from donating blood. Last week, when I heard about the MarrowThon, I wondered if these same rules applied. So I called the National Marrow Donor Program and asked, “I am gay; can I donate bone marrow?” The lady’s response was hesitant and sympathetic. She told me that I cannot donate bone marrow because of the FDA’s official policy on blood and bone marrow donation are the same: if you are a man, who has had sex with another man at any time since 1977, then you cannot donate. In my case, this is true, and I am permanently barred from ever donating blood or bone marrow. I was frustrated but curious, so I asked a fake follow-up question: “What if I’ve never had sexual contact with another man?”

“Well,” she said, “do you ever plan to?”

“Sure, why not?” I replied.

“Then because you are at an increased risk of contracting HIV in the future, we have to defer you.”

Gays and even the Red Cross have constantly criticized these policies as being homophobic and counterproductive, but the FDA is steadfast. Even while HIV test accuracy (about one false negative in two million) and the understanding of the transmission and incubation of the virus have increased dramatically, the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will not budge. To these institutions, the possibility of a few accidental infections caused by dirty-blooded gays is much scarier than the loss of hundreds of lives due to low blood supplies and small bone marrow registries. So give blood, and donate your bone marrow. Please donate, but when you do, remember that I can’t.

Jack Wadden ’11