By Rabbi Elisa Koppel
“If you save a single life, it is as if you have saved an entire world.” (Talmud, Sanhedrin, 37a)
I’ve used that quote on countless flyers for blood drives and in publicizing blood donation opportunities. Donating blood is literally a potentially life saving action. Just 1 pint can save up to 4 lives. With a constant shortage of blood available, it is so important. Each time there is a natural disaster or tragedy of violence, the importance and need becomes even more apparent.
Just this past weekend, we held a blood drive at Temple Beth-El. I beamed with pride as I saw one of our high school students sitting next to a local news anchor, each of them participating in this mitzvah, this sacred obligation. We collected 27 pints–which is amazing considering how many people had been fasting for Yom Kippur the day before.
And then I start to think.
And I realize how much higher that number could have been.
If not for the outdated policy of the FDA, part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which prevents men who have had sex with another man, even one time since 1977, for being eligible to donate.
This policy has been in place since 1983, a time at which our understanding of HIV was just beginning–an understanding that has changed drastically over the past 3 decades. With current science and knowledge, and with current screening technologies (which did not exist in 1983), the time has come (and is, quite frankly, well overdue), for this policy to change.
It is time for the thousands of willing donors who are currently being prevented from even being considered for donation–and for those who are forced to decide whether to tell the truth on a form because they want to give blood and they know they are healthy to not have to be forced into that decision making process.
The American Medical Association, the Red Cross, and America’s Blood Centers have all called upon the FDA to change this policy. Even the HHS Advisory Committee on Blood & Tissue Safety & Availability has recognized that the current system allows high-risk individuals to donate, while preventing low-risk individuals from doing so.
Last month, Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote a letter signed by 81 Members of Congress to HHS, calling on them to expedite changes to this discriminatory ban.
Let us advocate for this change in policy so that we may all take part in saving lives.
Call your Senators and Members of Congress and let them know your stance on this issue, and of its importance.
Sign this petition from GMHC on this issue.
And sign this petition which Mayor Evan Low from Campbell, CA.
Speak out about this issue. Educate about this issue. And even as we continue to host blood drives, and for those that can donate, let us not forget those that, unfairly, cannot.
Let us save lives. Let us all, together, save the world.