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Advocacy groups
back reversal of policy that bars gay blood

Advocacy groups
back reversal of policy that bars gay blood

HRC, GLMA, and AAHIVM support plans by the FDA to end gay blood donor ban.

The American Academy of HIV Medicine, the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association have issued a joint press statement in support of plans by the Food and Drug Administration to later this year discuss ending the nation's barring of gay blood donors. An FDA spokesman said earlier this month that the agency's Blood Products Advisory Committee will meet later this year to consider lifting the lifetime ban on any male blood donor who has had sex with another man even one time since 1977.

The FDA's decision to review the ban was prompted by statements from the American Association of Blood Banks, America's Blood Centers, and the American Red Cross that newer blood screening techniques catch virtually all cases of HIV-infected blood donations, making the lifetime prohibition of gay donors unnecessary. Instead, the agency will consider implementing a policy where gay men who've engage in high-risk acts are deferred from donating for one year. The same one-year deferral policy is already in place for other groups at high risk for HIV infection.

"There is no scientific data to support the FDA's current policy of excluding men who have sex with men, as a group, from blood donation," said Jon Givner, director of Lambda Legal's HIV Project, in a statement. "We encourage the FDA to revisit its policy and adopt a screening process based on science and real risk rather than irrational fears."

The groups do worry, however, that even if the FDA revises its deferral policy for gay men, the agency may still regard all sex acts by gay men as being high-risk and give an automatic one-year deferral to gay men who've had sex during the past year. This would continue to prevent the vast majority of gay men from donating blood, even if they always use condoms or are in monogamous relationships, the groups say.

"Our number 1 concern remains the safety of America's blood supply," said Chris Labonte, legislative director of HRC, in a statement. "Deferrals should be based on risky behavior not on identity, which is currently the policy of the FDA. Playing identity politics does nothing to protect the blood supply."

Joel Ginsberg, executive director of GLMA, said the FDA, the Red Cross, and the blood agencies should be applauded for beginning to address the discriminatory policy preventing gay men from donating blood. "Now we must follow through on this commitment with rational policies that base deferrals on risk behaviors rather than categorical groupings," he says. (The Advocate)

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