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Committee Considers Relaxing Blood Donation Ban for Some Gay Men

Committee Considers Relaxing Blood Donation Ban for Some Gay Men

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A committee hearing today resulted in suggestions to relax the outright restriction on gay and bisexual men donating blood. But activists say the changes still stigmatize men who have sex with men.

A national oversight committee met today and announced possible revisions to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's policy that prevents any man who has had sex with another man since 1977 from donating blood.

The federal Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability's new recommendation suggests that gay and bisexual men should be able to donate blood -- but only if they have not had sex with another man in the past year. The commitee's vote was 16-2, reports BuzzFeed.

Before any changes to the FDA's current policy could take place, the new recommendation would need to be adopted by Blood Products Advisory Committee, which meets in December. That committee will then make recommendations to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where the Secretary can decide to adopt, amend, or reject the recommendations. If the changes are adopted, the Human Rights Campaign notes that formal rulemaking from the administration will be required.

Activists acknowledged the recommendation is an improvement over the carte-blanche denial currently enforced, which has been denounced as outdated and unscientific by health and advocacy organizations nationwide, including the American Medical Association, the American Red Cross, and the American Association of Blood Banks.

But the new recommendations still perpetuate an unfounded fear of blood donation from men who have sex with men, said HRC in a statement Thursday.

"This recommendation -- although nominally better than the existing policy -- falls far short because it continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men, preventing them from donating life-saving blood based solely on their sexual orientation," said HRC's government affairs director David Stacy. "The current policy, adopted in the earliest days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the new recommendation are both simply wrong and can no longer be justified in light of scientific research and updated blood screening technology. It's far past time for this stigma to end."

The American Civil Liberties Union offered a similarly measured response. "Criteria for being a blood donor should be based on science, not discriminatory stereotypes and assumptions," said ACLU legislative representative Ian Thompson in a statement. "It is promising to see that the U.S. appears poised to move away from the current lifetime ban that prevents gay and bisexual men from donating blood. However, the proposed one-year deferral will prevent two men who maintain a committed, monogamous relationship from ever donating blood. This proposed policy does not distinguish between high risk and safer sex practices."

Mexico and Canada both repealed long-standing bans on blood donation by gay and bisexual men in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

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