Had he not been transfused with HIV-tainted blood in the early 1980s, tennis great Arthur Ashe would have celebrated his 70th birthday on Wednesday, God willing of course.
Instead, his death of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1993 is a stark reminder of how far we have and have not come since those early years when the disease was considered the dreaded consequences of homosexuality and intravenous drug abuse.
One of the things that has not changed is the nation’s policy on blood donations.
Presently, you cannot donate blood if you are a prospective male donor and had sex with a man since 1977.
The restriction could be construed as a public health necessity, it seems.
But not everyone agrees.
Many of those who don’t are hoping to get the Food and Drug Administration to change policy by participating on Friday in a National Gay Blood Drive in various cities.
These gay and bisexual men plan to take HIV tests to prove they do not have the virus, and then attempt to donate blood based on those results.
“As each donor is rejected, their test result will be collected, compiled, and delivered to the FDA — visually conveying to them on a national level how much blood the gay community could contribute to the blood supply should they lift their current policy,” organizers of the blood drive said on their website.
When it comes to public health policies, the quality of the blood takes precedence.
Arthur Ashe, most assuredly blessed as an athlete, lived years after he contracted tainted blood during a transfusion, and countless other people have, too.
And, hey, thank God for the scientific and medical advancements that have been made since Magic Johnson shocked the world and announced that sexual indiscretions led to his HIV infection.
Potential blood donor screenings start with the source. And it’s no more discriminatory to ask a donor if he or she has had sex with a man since 1977 than it is to ask a patient if he or she had been to Asia when the SARS epidemic scared us into lathering hand sanitizer.
Here’s hoping the Obama administration doesn’t jump because a special interest group says jump.