Obama Administration officials want to end the ban on gay and bisexual men being able to donate blood if they say they haven’t had sex with a man in the past 12 months.
For over 30 years, there has been a lifetime ban on gay and bisexual males from giving blood, due to the higher risk that the blood might be tainted with HIV and be passed on through transfusions. Gay activists say the ban is discriminatory. No kidding.
According to government figures, men who have had sex with other men represent about 2 percent of the U.S. population, yet account for at least 62 percent of all new HIV infections in the U.S.
But if this Obama Administration initiative goes through, the ban would be lifted as long as someone claims they’ve been celibate for a year. Just a simple questinaire away from donating. Is our blood supply that low or is this political correctness gone nuts? Under existing policy, blood donations are barred from any man who has had sex with another man at any time since 1977 — the start of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S.
The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday it favors replacing the blanket ban with a new policy barring donations from men who have had man-on-man sex in the previous 12 months. The new policy would put the U.S. in line with other countries including Australia, Japan and the U.K.
Activists, however, questioned whether requiring a year of celibacy from gay men in order to donate blood amounted to a significant policy shift.
The lifetime ban dates from the early years of the AIDS crisis and was intended to protect the blood supply from what was a then little-understood disease. But many medical groups, including the American Medical Association, say the policy is no longer supported by science, given advances in HIV testing. Gay activists say the ban is discriminatory and perpetuates negative stereotypes.
The agency will recommend the switch in draft guidelines early next year and move to finalize them after taking comments from the public, FDA officials told reporters. FDA Deputy Director Dr. Peter Marks declined to give a timeframe for completing the process but said, “we commit to working as quickly as possible on this issue.”
Marks said some of the most compelling evidence for changing the policy comes from Australia, which put in place a one-year ban on donations over a decade ago. Recently published studies showed no change in the safety of the blood supply after making the switch.
Additionally, studies conducted by the U.S. government suggest gay and bisexual men are actually more likely to abide by donation guidelines under a 12-month prohibition period. All blood donors take a questionnaire about their health and sexual behavior, but some gay men reportedly answer inaccurately to donate blood.
The U.S. blood banking system already bars donations from people who have had sex with a prostitute or an intravenous drug user in the past 12 months.
Gay activists say don’t worry: “Everyone is equally at risk for HIV infection. It’s about specific sexual behavior, not about sexual orientation,” says Tom Duane, a Democratic New York state senator who is both openly gay and HIV-positive.
The blood banks say they need the extra blood. A shortage in the New York area has reached “crisis proportions” and the bank has cut back on shipments, according to New York Blood Center President Robert Jones.
This despite the fact that gay men make up roughly half of the patients living with HIV in the United States, despite accounting for just four percent of the population. The CDC reports that 63 percent of new HIV infections occur among MSM — the agency’s shorthand for “Men Who Have Sex With Men.”
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