The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

National News

September 18, 2013

Despite pressure, ban on gay blood donors endures

NEW YORK — The U.S. gay-rights movement has achieved many victories in recent years — on marriage, military service and other fronts. Yet one vestige of an earlier, more wary era remains firmly in place: the 30-year-old nationwide ban on blood donations by gay and bisexual men.

Dating from the first years of the AIDS epidemic, the ban is a source of frustration to many gay activists, and also to many leading players in the nation’s health and blood-supply community who have joined in calling for change.

In June, the American Medical Association voted to oppose the policy. AMA board member William Kobler called it “discriminatory and not based on sound science.” Last month, more than 80 members of Congress wrote to the Department of Health and Human Services, criticizing the lifetime ban as an outdated measure that perpetuates inaccurate stereotypes about gay men.

On some college campuses, students have urged boycotts of blood drives until the ban is repealed. Over the summer, activists organized a “National Gay Blood Drive” — asking gay men to visit blood centers, take tests to show their blood was safe, and then try to donate in defiance of the ban.

In the face of such pressure, the Food and Drug Administration — the HHS agency that regulates America’s blood supply — has been unwavering. The lifetime ban will be eased, the FDA says, “only if supported by scientific data showing that a change in policy would not present a significant and preventable risk to blood recipients.”

Under the auspices of HHS, a few studies are in progress that might lay the groundwork for a review of the policy. Department spokeswoman Diane Gianelli said the studies reflect a commitment to “continuously improving the safety and availability of the nation’s blood supply.”

However, some activists are impatient at the prospect of a research process that’s likely to extend over several years with an uncertain outcome. They argue that the U.S. could move now to emulate Spain and Italy, where blanket bans on gay blood donations have been replaced by policies that ban donations by anyone — gay or straight — who’s recently had unsafe sex, while allowing donations from gays and bisexuals whose blood is tested as safe and whose sexual behavior is deemed to pose no risk.

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