The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability has decided to retain the policy that bans blood donation by any man who has had sex with a man at any time, even once, since 1977.
Incongruously, current policy allows people who have unsafe heterosexual sex with someone who has AIDS to donate blood after a one-year waiting period.
In a 9-6 vote, which took place last week, the committee cited a lack of research to support the notion that lifting the ban would not contaminate the blood supply.
Current HIV testing technology can identify a new infection with the virus within about 10 days of transmission.
The committee acknowledged that current policy permits "some potentially high-risk donations while preventing some potentially low-risk donations."
It called this state of affairs "suboptimal" and suggested more research into the matter."
This decision is outrageous, irresponsible and archaic," said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "We expect more out of this advisory committee and this administration than to uphold an unnecessarily discriminatory policy from another era."
She said all donors should be "screened appropriately and assessed based on actual behavioral risk independent of their sexual orientation."
The American Red Cross, the nation’s largest blood supplier, agrees.
"The American Red Cross is disappointed with the decision made by the (committee) not to recommend a change to the FDA policy of a lifetime deferral for men who have sex with other men," the organization said. "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."
Though the committee voted to recommend against changing the current policy, the committee did recommend, among other actions, that quarantine release errors should be investigated. Depending on the results of such an investigation, this could lead to a future recommendation to reduce or eliminate the “deferral” of gay men and other men who have sex with men desiring to donate blood. Not much improvement, but a bit of a start.
While the increase the blood supply could receive by lifting the indefinite deferral was noted as “modest at best,” Dr. Frederick Axelrod, CEO of LifeStream, noted that there are other concerns with not changing the current policy at all.
Referring to college campuses and others canceling blood drives to express sympathy for and solidarity with the gay community, Axelrod said, “these issues...are coming up more frequently and the vocal nature of it is getting louder and louder.” Axelrod warned that if the policy is not changed “there could be an increased voice that’s going to push harder as it relates to this and then it’s going to affect the amount of blood that we can collect and then it’ll affect patients in a different way — not with an infectious disease, but not having enough blood and going back to shortages.”
Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council, an anti-gay organization that has been accused of lobbying Congress in opposition of a resolution that would denounce Uganda’s “kill the gays” bill, spoke at the meeting in favor of maintaining the current policy. Despite his organization’s anti-gay stance, his statements to the committee were carefully crafted to contain no blatantly homophobic language. Also speaking at the meeting were Nathan Schaefer and Sean Cahill of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, as well as several HIV/AIDS organizations.
Schaefer made clear that his organization does not “necessarily think that anyone opposed to changing the current policy is motivated by homophobia,” but the possibility of homophobia represented in the policy is certainly present. Describing disparities in treatment, Schaefer gave the example that though any man who has had sex with another man since 1977 can never give blood, a man who has had sex with a known HIV+ woman more than 365 days ago can give blood.
HHS apparently kept no record of how members voted on the issue. A recording of the meeting is available on the department’s website, but due to low video quality and a camera shot that doesn’t include all members, not all votes are known. One vote in support of the current policy was cast by Anne Marie Finley, Vice President of Government Relations at Celgene Corporation, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical corporations.
Back in the 80's when we didn't know much about HIV/AIDS and the homosexual community was largely ignored and/or widely discriminated against, HIV/AIDS was seen as the "Gay Disease." This was because, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at that time most AIDS cases occurred among whites homosexual males. Soon thereafter AIDS began spreading through intravenous drug use as well as other transmission methods and that's when cases starting being identified in heterosexuals as well. Once the HIV/AIDS issue became an epidemic, the federal government got involved, "to protect the people."
In 1983 the Food and Drug Administration implemented rules against men who have had sex – even once – with another man since 1977, stating that they are forbidden from donating blood. The purpose of this rule was to prevent HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, from tainting the blood supply. Screening tests to identify HIV-positive blood had not been developed as of yet and so an all out ban seemed like an appropriate measure. Despite the fact that this is no longer the case as there are plenty of tests that can detect the virus, the ban was nonetheless retained. Thus, in 2010, gay males who have sex with other gay males cannot give blood, even if they don't have HIV/AIDS.
Of note: There are no other minority groups banned from giving blood, regardless of whether or not said minority group has a high HIV/AIDS infection rate or not. For example, if you are a gay woman, you can apparently give all the blood you want. That is because lesbians are not seen as a high-risk group for contracting HIV/AIDS as opposed to sexually active gay males. Though hundreds of thousands of woman have HIV/AIDS due to drug use or other methods of transmissions, the CDC still doesn't consider them to be a "high-risk" group because they are not likely to transmit HIV/AIDS through sexual intercourse (although it is possible).
Another example of this glaring hypocrisy is that despite gay males being labeled as a high risk group, according to the Center For Disease Control as of 2008, African American men and women were estimated to have an incidence rate that was 7 times as high as the incidence rate among white people...and yet there is no ban against black people giving blood.
In addition, various studies also show that heterosexual intercourse is the fastest-growing mode of HIV transmission in North America and the dominant mode of HIV transmission worldwide. It has been reported that HIV is rapidly showing up in heterosexual communities throughout North America. However, there is no ban on heterosexuals giving blood. It seems that the precautions taken against receiving tainted blood from sexually active homosexuals is not considered necessary for sexually active heterosexuals.
There is also a glaringly obvious problem here. For one, any person, gay or otherwise does not have to tell the truth about any of the above. All one has to say to give blood is, "I'm straight, monogamous and last time I checked, STD free." Then they take your blood and test it, just like everyone else. The dirty little secret in all of this is that homosexual men do give blood, when they choose to lie.
Sadly, it appears that the FDA is discriminating against a particular group of people based on their sexuality, rather than establishing real precautions to ensure that the country’s blood reserve is safe.
— The Curator