While the American Red Cross supports sexual expression through condom distribution, it also values the virtue of chastity, at least regarding whose blood it will accept.
I’m blessed to give blood, and I’m reminded every time I do that the Church teaches wisely on marriage and family—and, as the Catechism (CCC) summarizes, sexual matters in general (see CCC 2337ff). Consider some of the questions you need to answer correctly before you can donate to the Red Cross (or any other blood bank):
In the past three months, have you had or been treated for syphilis or gonorrhea? (Q. 27);
In the past three months, have you had sexual contact with a prostitute or anyone else who has ever taken money or drugs or other payment for sex? (Q. 19);
In the past three months, have you had sexual contact with anyone who has ever used needles to take drugs or steroids, or anything not prescribed by their doctor?
In the past three months, have you received money, drugs, or other payment for sex? (Q. 37).
If you can’t answer no to all of these questions, you cannot give blood. Period.
If you attempt to circumvent the rules, the Red Cross has a safeguard to help ensure the integrity of each donation. That is, if your blood is found to have syphilis, gonorrhea, or HIV/AIDS, for example—as I’m told every time I donate—you will be put on a cannot-donate blood list, and the blood you’ve have donated will be promptly destroyed.
The Red Cross rightly doesn’t want those in urgent need of blood to have health problems in addition to the ones they’re already experiencing. In effect, then, the Red Cross affirms the virtue of chastity, maintaining a policy that conveys that certain sexual choices are bad for maintaining a healthful blood-donation business.
“Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom,” the Church summarizes. “The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy” (CCC 2339; emphasis original, footnote omitted). And he will impact the happiness of others through his unchaste actions, and thus their ability to attain true peace. As I’ve written elsewhere, we’ll only find real peace as faithful disciples of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ (see John 14:27), and embracing chastity according to our state in life is indispensable to that attainment.
The particular perils of “Pride Month”
Let’s be very clear. People who experience same-sex attraction (SSA) should not be subjected to hateful slurs and unjust discrimination. In addition, as I’ve noted before, everyone is called to embrace chastity, and the need for God’s mercy also applies to everyone.
In reaching out to those with SSA, we can affirm the goodness of their friendships as brothers or sisters, not romantic partners, as Paul Darrow does so well through his own faithful witness. In addition, a number of people who have experienced SSA, such as Andrew Comiskey, have married happily in authentic marriages.
However, even in a culture of “safe sex” and many fewer people dying of HIV/AIDS than in decades past, the Red Cross still emphasizes the greater physical peril for those who engage in male sodomy, as these further questions from the Red Cross make clear:
Male donors: In the past 3 months, have you had sexual contact with another male? (Q. 21);
In the past 3 months, have you had sexual contact with anyone who has ever had HIV/AIDS or has ever had a positive test for the HIV/AIDS virus? (Q. 18);
Have you ever had a positive test for the HIV/AIDS virus? (Q. 35);
In the past 3 months, have you taken any medication to prevent an HIV infection? (Q. 80);
Have you EVER taken any medication to treat an HIV infection? (Q. 81, emphasis original).
As the U.S. government affirmed earlier this month:
Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) are the population most affected by HIV in the U.S.: MSM accounted for 69% of new HIV diagnoses in the United States (emphasis original, footnotes omitted).
A significant additional portion of HIV cases can be traced back to encounters of male sodomy. Nevertheless, Dr. Alan Mast of Versiti, another national blood bank, reports that a recent survey shows that some men, particularly young men, are donating blood even when they know they shouldn’t. “The younger the donor was, the more likely they were to have broken the rules,” says Dr. Mast says, suggesting that younger homosexual men saw the restriction as “out of touch.”
“MSM donors were concerned with blood safety, but they felt if they were in a monogamous relationship, it was safe to donate blood,” Dr. Mast says. “Their opinion was that there should be more questions about HIV risk in general, not just about homosexual encounters.”
The stakes are much higher than physical death
In 1985, with the HIV/AIDS crisis raging worldwide, Dr. Mast notes, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “determined that the best way to keep the blood supply safe was to prohibit homosexual men—the group with the highest risk of contracting HIV—from donating blood. This policy, established in 1985, stated that any man who had ever had sexual intercourse [actually, sodomy] with another man from 1977 to the present was, by law, unable to donate blood.”
In December 2014, the FDA updated its policy for unchaste homosexual male donors. Instead of prohibiting these donors entirely, it made them wait one year after their most recent sexual encounter with another man. In April 2020, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA reduced the deferral period from one year to three months.
What could justify the reduction to only three months? Besides pressure to increase the blood supply amidst the COVID crisis, changing culture mores in recent years have apparently played a part. In addition, contracting HIV/AIDS is no longer the almost-certain death sentence it was in decades past.
Still, are the Red Cross and others playing “donation roulette” with the blood supply for the sake of cultural expedience? What if the HIV/AIDS virus does not become manifest in a donation within the three-month period? We’ll have to wait and see.
In that light, I recall the tragic case of Kimberly Bergalis, the young Catholic woman who contracted AIDS from her dentist, who removed two of Bergalis’s molars in December 1987, even though the doctor knew he was HIV-positive and thus susceptible to pass on AIDS through his dental work.
Others have contracted AIDS through tainted blood donations. Thus the longstanding FDA ban. Given relaxed guidelines on unchaste homosexual male donors, I fear we may have a spate of new cases of people who contract HIV-AIDS—or perhaps something else—through blood transfusions.
Also, we need to remember that what matters most is not a person’s “right” to donate blood, but rather the reasonable expectation that a person in need will receive untainted blood, or not be negatively impacted otherwise by a person with HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases.
In any event, a three-month deferral is still an indirect reminder of the morally problematic nature of male sodomy in particular, and other Red Cross guidelines serve similarly re: sexual misbehavior in general. More to the point, because our spiritual well-being matters most (see 1 Cor. 6:9-10), let us pray for a global renewal in the virtue of chastity, including through a sober reading of blood donation questionnaires. It’s a matter of eternal life or death.
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