New CDC organ donor guidelines could discourage many healthy people from donating — because they demand that any donor who's had two or more sex partners in the last year be designated "high-risk."
According to MSNBC, the guidelines are meant to protect organ recipients from getting HIV, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C from their new organs. But they may have unintended side effects. Several experts point out that flagging everyone who's been non-monogamous this year as high-risk would affect a lot of people. Says transplant surgeon Dr. Harry Dorn-Arias, "With the new guidelines, every college student in America will be high risk." The new rules don't mean people with multiple sexual partners would be banned from donating, but they'd have to disclose their sexual history and receive more testing. Dorn-Arias points out that this could discourage young people from donating to family members: "If you were going to give your organ to your mom or dad or sister, you're going to be ashamed of that. You're either going to say no, or you're going to lie." It might also make recipients afraid of accepting organs from non-monogamous donors, leading to longer wait times, declining health, or even death. Says transplant administrator Tracy Giacoma,
It's probably going to triple what we consider high risk at this point. It may scare patients off from taking these organs. More patients may die because they don't take these organs.
Clearly patients do need protection from diseases transmitted through donated organs. But counting donors' number of sexual partners may not be the way to do that. MSNBC points out that existing guidelines also exclude men who've had sex with men in the past five years, a group also prohibited from giving blood in the US. This policy has received a lot of criticism — in the UK, gay men can now give blood, but they must still have been celibate for a year. Both policies focus more on number or gender of partners than on safety precautions the donor has taken, which might be more meaningful. Someone who's had sex with multiple partners but used condoms every time may be at lower risk of HIV than someone who's having unprotected sex with one partner who's cheating on them. Ultimately, information about safer sex practices, coupled with rigorous testing, may be a lot more useful than branding the organs of the non-monogamous with a scarlet letter.