Public policy can have a profound affective role in our society. Law professor and bioethicist Dov Fox refers to this concept as the “expressive dimension” of public policy. He contends that a policy can be discriminatory and harmful if “the policy communicates a social meaning — independent of any bad intent or bad effect — that erodes worthy forms of public recognition.” Banning a stigmatized group from participating in the social good of blood donation, independent of any rational merits of the policy, signals to the public a sense of that group’s social undesirability.

An honest, ethical evaluation of our blood donation policy must acknowledge that gay men are far more likely to live with fears of HIV, violence, and ostracism than straight people. Instead of valuing the outsized fear that straight people have of homosexuals, we could instead reintegrate gay men into charitable society through a science-based blood donation policy.

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