Stigma Over Science: CDC Calls Organs from the Non-Monogamous "Risky"

 MSNBC is reporting that the Center for Disease Control has proposed new guidelines for the already flawed organ transplant system. Now, persons who have had sex with just two or more partners in the last year will be considered "risky" organ donors.

Every year, an astonishing 6,000 people die waiting for organ transplants. There just are not as many donors as there are transplant patients.  And now, every sexually active person not in a 12-month monogamous relationship may be considered at increased risk for transmitting HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. The proposed  standard is not a ban but will require increased testing, which translates into delays, and, as organ transplant experts explained to MSNBC, may prevent life-saving transplants by scaring away patients and donors. 

According to MSNBC:

“If you were going to give your organ to your mom or dad or sister, you’re going to be ashamed of that,” said Dorn-Arias. “You’re either going to say no, or you’re going to lie.”

The proposed policy could also require families of deceased donors to answer uncomfortable questions -- ones they may not even know the answers to -- about the specific sexual behaviors of their loved ones.

“It’s probably going to triple what we consider high risk at this point,” said Tracy Giacoma, transplant administrator at the University of Kansas Hospital. “It may scare patients off from taking these organs. More patients may die because they don’t take these organs.”

Forcing people to disclose sexual information to family is an especially important consequence because biological similarity is a huge factor in organ matching. And with 25-30 percent of people aged 20-24 admitting to having more than one sexual partner in the past 12 months, a huge portion of the population could be affected.

Still,  Dr. Matthew J. Kuehnert, director of the CDC’s office of Blood, Organ and Other Tissue Safety, insists the policy is sound:

Using a set of behaviors to gauge risk makes sense, Kuehnert said, and studies suggest that having more than one sexual partner raises the risk of infection.

“We can quibble about whether it should be two sexual partners or three or five or 10, but we’ll have to have a cut-off point,” he said.

But what is most important, of course, is practicing safe sex. Having sex with one partner without a condom may be more dangerous than having protected sex with multiple people, especially if the alleged monogamous person is actually not so monogamous.  

But the CDC's failure to consider complexities did not end there. Stigma also guided other new "risky" behaviors:

 The proposed guidelines shorten the time frame for many of the higher-risk behaviors from five years to one year. But they also classify as risky people who have used kidney dialysis during that time; people who have snorted cocaine or heroin nasally; those who've been in prison, jail or juvenile detention centers for more than three consecutive days in the past year; those who currently have or who have been treated for syphilis, gonorrhea or genital ulcers in the past year and people who have immigrated to the United States within the last year from a country with a high prevalence of hepatitis B.

What's more, because blacks are much more likely to go to jail or juvenile detention centers than whites, this new guideline adds another hurdle to the African-American struggle to obtain an organ transplant.  Biology and discrimination against the poor already push them to the end of the transplant line.

AlterNet / By Kristen Gwynne

Posted at December 6, 2011, 9:19am

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