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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 26, 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 52
New FDA blood donor policy draws criticism from LGBT groups
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New FDA blood donor policy draws criticism from LGBT groups

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced December 23 that it will now recommend accepting blood donations from Gay men, but only if they have been celibate for one year prior to donating.

The new rule ends a total ban on blood from Gay men that has been in place since 1983, at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic.

According to Reuters, the policy change is expected to boost the supply of donated blood by hundreds of thousands of pints per year.

The FDA said it will issue draft guidance on the new policy early in 2015. It will then review the comments and issue final guidance 'as quickly as possible,' Peter Marks, deputy director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said during a press briefing.

An FDA advisory committee met this month to discuss changing the existing policy and evaluating the effectiveness of new blood supply tests for HIV infections. In November, an advisory committee to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended replacing the indefinite ban on Gay donors with the one-year deferral.

The new rules drew some praise, but mostly criticism from AIDS and LGBT rights groups.

'The Elton John AIDS Foundation is pleased that the FDA has taken a first step to lift the antiquated ban prohibiting gay men from donating blood,' the group said.

'This announcement represents a long overdue shift in the public health field's perception of gay men. While we urge the FDA to fully discard its ban, this step underscores what we have always believed: that all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation, should be allowed to help people in need. It's part of ending stigma against LGBT Americans, and is simply the right thing to do.'

The ACLU, on the other hand, said that little had been changed.

'The FDA's proposal must be seen as part of an ongoing process and not an end point,' said Ian Thompson, ACLU Legislative Representative.

'The reality for most gay and bisexual men - including those in committed, monogamous relationships - is that this proposal will continue to function as a de facto lifetime ban. Criteria for determining blood donor eligibility should be based on science, not outdated, discriminatory stereotypes and assumptions.'

Lambda Legal expressed similar sentiments.

'This is a step in the right direction, but blood donation policy should be based on current scientific knowledge and experience, not unfounded fear, generalizations and stereotypes,' the group said in a statement.

'Merely changing the parameters of this outdated policy does not alter its underlying discriminatory nature, eliminate its negative and stigmatizing effects, nor transform it into a policy based on current scientific and medical knowledge.'

The National LGBTQ Task Force was particularly scathing in its evaluation of the new policy.

'The FDA's updated policy on gay and bisexual men's blood donations continues to discriminate as it stops short of fully lifting an antiquated and scientifically unsound ban established in the height of the HIV and AIDS epidemic - when not enough was known about the virus and epidemic,' the Task Force said.

'Despite the FDA's effort to bring their policy in line with science, the ban continues to single out sexually active gay and bisexual men and further fuels negative LGBTQ stereotypes and stigma associated with HIV and AIDS. We urge the FDA to rethink its decision and completely lift the discriminatory ban that prohibits gay and bisexual men from donating life-saving blood.'

Openly Lesbian Senator Tammy Baldwin called the new FDA rules 'a step forward,' but added 'I remain concerned that it does not achieve our goal of putting in place a policy that is based on sound science and allows all healthy individuals to donate.'

'The Administration must continue to work towards implementing blood donation policies based on individual risk factors instead of singling out one group of people and turning away healthy, willing donors, even when we face serious blood shortages,' Baldwin added.

Washington's senior Senator Patty Murray called the announcement 'a welcome step in the right direction,' but said she was 'disappointed that low-risk gay men are still being discriminated against with this outdated policy.'

'Healthy Americans who don't engage in risky behavior, regardless of their sexual orientation, should have the opportunity to donate blood and help in the effort to save lives,' Murray stated.

'I look forward to working with [Health and Human Services] Secretary Burwell to build on the step taken today by removing this discriminatory ban while keeping our blood supply safe.'

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