A Matter of Life and Death

Chances are, you recently saw this plea for a bone marrow match for a young woman named Lara Casalotti.

Lara is only 24 years old and has acute myeloid leukemia. She desperately needs a stem cell transplant. But because she is of mixed ethnic background (Thai-Chinese and Italian), it’s hard to find a match.

Her family has launched a concerted push to find a donor for Lara, and to improve the diversity of bone marrow registries worldwide. It’s gone viral, even earning a tweet from the Reigning Queen of the Internet, J.K. Rowling.

People all over the world have signed up for their national registries in the hopes of saving Lara’s life. But some of them have been turned away.

Gay men are still restricted in their ability to donate blood products and bone marrow. In both Australia and New Zealand, any man who has had sex with another man in the previous 12 months may not donate blood or bone marrow. In the U.S.the U.K., and Canada gay men can donate bone marrow, but are still prohibited from giving blood if they are sexually active. The U.S. recently (last month, in fact) shifted from a lifetime ban to a 12 month deferment, a change the U.K. made in 2011. Canada, which currently requires 5 years of abstinence (!), will likely follow suit soon.

These regulations are discriminatory and unnecessary. They categorize all sex between men as inherently risky, on par with intravenous drug use. And they don’t just harm the dignity of gay men. Earlier this week, a friend of a friend tried, and failed, to register as a bone marrow donor in Australia. He’s a gay man, of mixed Chinese and Italian heritage, who thought he might be a match for Lara.

So please, if you can, register to be a donor. And if you live in Australia or New Zealand, tell your government to revise its bone marrow donation rules. The fate of someone like Lara, a young person who should have her whole life ahead of her, may hang in the balance.

Kate Cronin-Furman

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