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I hate it when I catch myself being hypocritical. Despite trying to convince people of their moral obligations on various issues, I've fallen short on mine. In 20 years, I've never given blood. There's always an excuse -- I'm worried I'll faint. Or I don't have time. But with 23 million people in need of blood transfusions every year, I can't afford to be complacent anymore. In turn, the government needs to do its part. Despite the fact that less than 5 percent of eligible donors actually give blood, the Red Cross is forced to turn away scores of healthy people every year -- all because of a 1985 Food and Drug Administration policy which bars gay men from giving blood. Any man who has had a sexual encounter with another since 1977 is not allowed to donate. As a result, the government continues to turn away 62,300 men yearly, and this number does not take into account the women who are also turned away because they have slept with bisexual men. The rule stands even if the individual religiously practices safe sex. And the policy doesn't just cheat hospitals out of much- needed blood. It also groups homosexual and bisexual men in the same category as intravenous drug users and prostitutes. This discriminatory policy was created during the AIDS scare of the 1980s, when the government felt it needed to take action to assure the public that blood supply would still be safe. However, we now know that regardless of a person's sexual orientation, everyone is at risk for HIV if they engage in certain behaviors, such as intravenous drug use or unprotected sex. Young heterosexual women are actually one of the fastest growing HIV-positive groups, and the FDA does not prohibit the collection of blood from them. In addition, all blood is tested after donation, regardless of the donor. According to the Associated Press, these methods "detect virtually all HIV-infected donated blood." New advances in genetic testing are making these methods even more accurate. But despite this expanded knowledge, the FDA continues to actively enforce its policy. And even in the face of a desperate blood shortage, the FDA declined to overturn the policy when the issue came to a vote last September. In response to complaints and even a few lawsuits, the Red Cross' chief medical officer, Dr. Rebecca Haley, explained that the ban must remain because, "We cannot change our procedures in a way that would result in increased numbers of infectious donation in our blood supply." This statement implies that the gay and bisexual communities are a threat to healthy blood transfusions. However, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that over 33 percent of people 24 years of age and over have already contracted a sexually transmitted disease. With a homosexual population of about 10 percent, it is clear that plenty of people in the heterosexual community are partaking in unsafe sexual practices as well. The paradox of the situation, thus, does not lie in the assumption that HIV continues to exist in the United States. This deadly virus already infects 2-3 people through blood transfusions every year. It is, instead, ridiculous that the government would willingly accept blood from anyone who practiced unsafe sex, be it within a heterosexual or homosexual community. The FDA's policy, as it stands now, serves only to propagate the stereotype that AIDS is a gay disease. It goes as far as to put the blame for the AIDS epidemic on the gay community, an accusation that is unsubstantiated. The policy not only discriminates -- it also misleads young heterosexual people into thinking that they are not at risk for the virus. The FDA needs to amend its policy not only to fight stereotypes and gain a wider source of blood, but also to turn away anyone who has practiced unsafe sex. Currently, the FDA does not turn away heterosexuals who have promiscuous unsafe oral sex, despite the fact that this activity can transmit HIV. As people feel increasingly comfortable being out about their sexuality, the Red Cross is going to lose more and more donors. And, unfortunately, the demand for blood is not going to go down. The government simply must change its policy. When people's lives are on the line, we cannot afford to be guided by unfounded fear or prejudice.

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