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Health Officials Reconsider Ban on Gay Blood Donors


Faced with increased pressure from gay advocates, lawmakers, and blood collection agencies, federal health officials will reexamine the 27-year-old ban on gay male blood donors --a prohibition that the American Red Cross and other groups have blasted in recent years as "scientifically and medically unwarranted."

In a Friday statement, the Food and Drug Administration, a subagency of the Department of Health and Human Services that regulates the nation's blood collection system, announced that it is "considering the possibility of pursuing alternative strategies that maintain blood safety" and that its blood safety committee will reexamine the ban in June. The FDA last reconsidered the policy in 2006 but recommended no change in a lifetime ban for men who have had sex with other men since 1977, the Los Angeles Times reports.

In recent years several countries have eased blood donation policies, replacing lifetime bans with risk-based protocols regarding specific sexual practices, regardless of sexual orientation. But the FDA has historically rejected change in its policy: "When we reexamine the issue scientifically, we haven't seen data showing that altering the current [ban] could be accomplished without some degree of increased risk" of HIV-contaminated blood entering the nation's blood supply, Jay Epstein, director of the Office of Blood Research and Review for the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, told The Advocate in a November article.

The FDA statement comes a week after a group of 18 U.S. senators, led by Massachusetts senator John Kerry, penned a letter to FDA officials calling for an end to an "outdated, medically and scientifically unsound" policy.

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