Science, Discrimination, and the Blood Supply: San Jose State University's Blood Drive Ban

This case describes the decision by administrators at San Jose State University to ban blood drives on campus and the aftermath of that decision. The administrators suspended the blood drives in response to their determination that the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) lifetime blood donor deferral policy for homosexual men--which disallows blood donations from any man who has had sexual contact with another man since the onset of the AIDS epidemic--violated the University's anti-discrimination policy, which explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Local and national media quickly picked up on the University's move, prompting both support and criticism on campus, in the community and at other universities.

The case offers a look at how the leadership team in one public, quasi-governmental organization--the University--implemented a political strategy with both symbolic and material dimensions as an indirect challenge to a decision made by another governmental organization--the FDA--in a climate in which reasonable people could disagree over what policy solution was most supported by scientific evidence. It provokes discussion of the politics of discrimination and under what circumstances discrimination can be justified. It also addresses issues of the role of science in public policy, decision-making under uncertainty, the government's role in balancing civil rights with public safety, social construction, and a variety of other important public affairs topics.