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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 18, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 25
9-6, Gay blood ban stays
Section One
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9-6, Gay blood ban stays

by James Whitely - SGN Staff Writer

On Friday June 11, after a two-day meeting, the Federal Committee on Blood Safety and Availability voted 9-6 to keep the 'Gay blood ban' in place. The week prior, Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) had asked the panel to end what he refers to as a 'discriminatory practice.'

'This lingering policy is responsible for turning away thousands of healthy donors from blood clinics across the country, not because they have engaged in highly risky behavior, but because they are Gay,' Kerry testified. 'This is blood that could save lives.'

The Federal Committee on Blood Safety and Availability makes recommendations to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Current FDA rules dictate that any man who has had sex with another man since 1977, even once, cannot donate blood.

The ban was instituted in 1983, to prevent HIV-AIDS from entering the blood donation supply, when there was no method of testing and identifying HIV-positive blood.

Gay rights advocates argue that this policy is discriminatory because straight people are only prohibited from donating blood, at least in regard to HIV/AIDS, if they are themselves positive or if they've had sex with an HIV-positive person within the past year.

Senator Kerry and Congressman Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) were the primary force behind the letter co-signed by nine senators and 34 representatives that urged for the June 11 review.

"I join medical experts at the American Red Cross, the American Medical Association, and many others in asserting that this policy is simply not called for by the science," said Kerry.

This isn't the first time Senator Kerry has raised his voice in opposition to this policy. In March of 2009, he wrote two letters to the FDA urging them to abolish the policy and published an op-ed on the subject in Bay Windows, New England's largest LGBT newspaper.

A report from the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law finds that about 219,000 more pints of blood could be available each year if the FDA lifted the ban. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force cited this figure in its response to the committee's decision.

"The committee's decision today not only leaves a discriminatory practice in place, it also puts lives at risk," said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, in a statement.

The American Red Cross also expressed disappointment about the decision, stating that "while the Red Cross is obligated by law to follow the guidelines set forth by the FDA, we also strongly support the use of rational, scientifically based deferral periods that are applied fairly and consistently among donors who engage in similar risk activities."

"The lifetime ban on Gay and Bisexual blood donors, unsupported by today's scientific understanding of HIV, unnecessarily stigmatizes Gay and Bisexual men and turns away healthy potential donors that our nation needs," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.

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