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80 Congressional Democrats Call Bull On One Year Gay Blood Deferral, Urge Obama Administration To Lift Ban

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Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, along with 78 other congressional Democrats, urged the Obama Administration to lift the ban on gay men donating blood on Monday, calling the 1983 policy archaic and a scientifically unjustified barrier reports BuzzFeedThe two lawmakers wrote a detailed letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Burwell.

BloodThe lawmakers' request comes after the FDA reaffirmed that it will not repeal the longstanding ban on gay blood. The request also addresses the recommendation by the Health and Human Services’ Advisory Committee on Blood & Tissue Safety & Availability's relaxation on the lifetime ban to instead ban donations from men who have had sex with men in the previous year. However, the lawmakers believe both policies are unfair saying, "both policies are discriminatory, and both approaches are unacceptable.”

In the letter the lawmakers request that the ban should be replaced with a "risk-based blood donation policy.” The most poignant part of the letter addresses the common objection of gay men donating blood; that gay men tend to be higher carriers of HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS.

Said lawmakers:

“The pertinent scientific question is not whether a cross-section of the population is more likely than another to transmit an infection, but rather whether an across-the-board, risk-based screening will reduce the likelihood of all infectious contaminations.”

Two other letters were addressed in the past concerning the ban however, the latest letter explicitly lays out the lawmakers’ policy platform and asks Secretary Burwell several pointed questions. The prominent question is will Burwell "Commit to replacing the lifetime deferral policy by the end of 2014?" And if a blood-screening network is established, when would it be functional, and would it need to be up and running to roll back the ban?

The lawmakers expect Burwell to address the matter before or on Dec. 22. 

Read the letter below:


FDA's Plan to Lift Gay Blood Donation Ban Hits Dead End

In a blow to equality advocates, the FDA has announced it has no further plans to discuss changing its longstanding ban on gay men donating blood.

The FDA's Blood Products Advisory Committee had met earlier this month amid talks of dropping the ban and switching to a one-year abstinence stipulation for men who have sex with men. 

Buzzfeed reports:

BloodThe announcement frustrated LGBT advocates who said the unilateral ban on blood donations unfairly stigmatizes gay men. Now advocates are looking to bypass the FDA advisory panel by pressuring upper tiers of the Obama Administration.

In that vein, some 80 members of Congress plan to ask Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell to change the policy in a letter Monday that will describe the ban as unscientific and outdated, congressional staffers told BuzzFeed News. They said the letter will argue that donors’ risky behaviors, whether gay or straight, should be the test of whether they can give blood, not sexual orientation.

American Civil Liberties Union legislative representative Ian Thompson said the comittee’s inaction appears to be a “deliberate” decision. “Ideally they would have removed sexual orientation entirely from the donor criteria and moved to a risk-based screening process. That is obviously not what they have chosen to do.”

Buzzfeed adds that Senator Elizabeth Warren is spearheading efforts to send a letter next week to more than six-dozen congresspeople asking the HHS secretary to replace the ban with a risk-based policy.


FDA Committee Inches Closer Toward Repealing Gay Blood Donor Ban

Picture 7The FDA Committee is meeting today to discuss proposals of removing the ban that prohibits gay men from donating blood reports The New Civil Rights Movement. Talks of repealing the ban appeared last month when The Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Blood & Tissue Safety & Availability voted to drop the ban for any man who has not had sex with another man in at least a year. A Williams Institute study finds that repealing the ban would save over 1.8 million lives.

However, the one-year abstinence stipulation is still considered discriminatory, and the few gay men that are eligible to donate would yield little increase in the amount of blood donated. Ryan James Yezak, found of the National Gay Blood Drive, finds the new stipulation discriminatory and absurd.

Said Yezak:

"The policies that are in place, the lifetime ban, perpetuates negative stereotypes and stigma. It assumes that all gay and bisexual men are likely to have HIV and therefore must be blanket banned and that's just not necessary in this day and age when they have the testing and other countries have moved to deferral time period."

Although Yezak is disappointed with the methods of the new stipulation, he agrees that it's at least a step in the right direction toward repealing the ban completely. Of course, the anti-gay right wing disagrees. Anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera, the head of Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, staunchly affirmed his position on keeping the ban.

Said LaBarbera:

"First of all, HIV rates and sexually transmitted diseases are rising among homosexual-practicing men. So why would we be talking about softening the blood ban at a time when [STDs] are on the rise among men who have sex with men?"

The ACLU disagrees, saying criteria for becoming a blood donor should be based on science, not misinformed assumptions and discriminatory stereotypes. LaBarbera and his fellow constituents choose to ignore the fact that HIV is as much an issue for heterosexual people as it is the LGBT community. Fortunately, President Obama reaffirmed his support of those living with, and affected by, HIV and AIDS in a speech the day before the observance of World AIDS Day this year. 


Is the FDA Policy on Gay Men Donating Blood Winding Down?

The FDA's longstanding policy of banning men who have sex with men (MSMs) from giving blood due to HIV transmission concerns may be on its way out the door after a U.S. advisory panel recommended for the first time that the 31-year ban be partially lifted. 

Bloomberg reports:

BanDoctors and blood-donation advocates who advise the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services voted 16-2 today to suggest that men who have had sex with men should be able to give blood after being abstinent for one year. Their recommendation will be considered by a group of advisers to the Food and Drug Administration in a Dec. 2 meeting. While the FDA doesn’t have to follow either panel’s advice, their recommendations are considered influential.

“The system, in my mind, has been very successful, in part, I believe, because the public has trust in the system and the decisions we make,” said Jay Menitove, chairman of the advisory group that met today. “To maintain that trust and compliance on the part of the public, it is time to modernize.”

The Human Rights Campaign reacts:

"This recommendation -- although nominally better than the existing policy -- falls far short because it continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men, preventing them from donating life-saving blood based solely on their sexual orientation,” said David Stacy, HRC’s Government Affairs Director. “The current policy, adopted in the earliest days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the new recommendation are both simply wrong and can no longer be justified in light of scientific research and updated blood screening technology. It’s far past time for this stigma to end.”

The American Red Cross supports the proposal, which mirrors similar 12-month deferral policies that have been implemented in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. 

 


EU Advocate General Urges European Court of Justice to Drop Gay Blood Donation Ban

Sein-schlussantrag-ist-meist-ein-praejudiz-generalanwalt-paolo-mengozziFrance is reconsidering its lifetime ban on gay men donating blood following a legal assertion that the policy amounted to widespread discrimination. The current law states that “persons whose sexual behaviour puts them at high risk of acquiring severe infectious diseases that can be transmitted by blood.”

Paolo Mengozzi, Advocate General of the European Court of Justice, made his case beginning with the fact that the current law does not clearly define “sexual behaviour.” In barring men who have or have had sex with men from participating in blood drives, Mengozzi went on to argue, the practice fostered discrimination based on sexuality and gender.

While Mengozzi expressed that he felt as if the EU’s prohibition was, in fact, meant to protect the public, its stipulations are currently too broadly defined.

The disproportionate focus on the sexual histories of gay men, he said, came at the cost of taking the time to screen populations whose behaviors, sexual and otherwise, posed more significant risks. Mengozzi’s views are in no way a binding decision for the court as a whole, but it’s common for the opinions of advocate generals to reflect a general shifting in consensus.

 


Gay Men Now Allowed to Donate Blood in South Africa

South Africa has ended its ban on blood donation by gay men, Mamba Online reports:

BloodOn Tuesday, Vanessa Raju, SANBS Communications Manager, confirmed to Mambaonline that a new non-discriminatory policy had been put in place that favours people in monogamous relationships, regardless of their sexuality.

She said that anyone who has a new sexual partner will not be allowed to donate blood for six months, and that anyone who has multiple partners will not be allowed to donate blood. Both criteria are irrespective of a person’s sexual orientation.

“This policy would apply to me, for example, who’s just started dating someone new,” Raju added. “But people who are in monogamous male same-sex relationships [for more than six months] can now donate.”

She explained that the previous policy had been put in place on the basis of international statistics and trends. “It took us a while because we didn’t have local facts that warranted changing our policy, although we knew South Africa was different from other countries in terms of risk of HIV,” said Raju.

The U.S. still prohibits blood donation by any man who has had sex with another man since 1977. Last August, 84 Democratic lawmakers led by Senator Tammy Baldwin urged HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to end the ban, saying that it “continues to perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes against gay and bisexual men and fosters an atmosphere that promotes discrimination.”


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