June 2, 2010
A lifting of the lifetime ban on blood donations from gay men is being urged by activists, blood organizations, and several US senators in advance of the policy's next federal review.
The US Federal Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability is scheduled to take up the issue when it meets June 10 and 11 in Rockville, Md. The committee advises the US Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Calls for easing the lifetime ban against blood donation by men who have sex with men (MSM) have come from the Human Rights Campaign, the American Red Cross, America's Blood Centers, and AABB (formerly the American Association of Blood Banks). The first priority of blood donation is safety, the blood groups said in a joint statement, while also asserting that potential donors should be screened more fairly, independent of sexual orientation.
FDA's policy is "outdated," 18 US senators said in a letter to the agency in March. They noted that while gay men have a lifetime exclusion from donating blood, a heterosexual who has had sexual contact with a prostitute can donate blood after a one-year waiting period.
FDA affirmed its policy during reviews in 2000 and 2006. In a statement e-mailed to CNN, FDA defended its current policy as "based on scientific data that show that certain medical, behavioral, and geographic factors are associated with increased risk of transfusion-transmitted diseases."
The hemophilia community, some members of which received HIV-tainted blood products before effective screening techniques were developed, remains wary about a proposed relaxation of the ban.
"We readily recognize the MSM ban is discriminatory, but it's discriminatory for a reason," said World Federation of Hemophilia spokesperson Mark Skinner.
"What we're looking for is a thoughtful review. We're not opposed to the change. We want to understand what additional risk patients might be asked to accept," Skinner said.