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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.”


Gay Man Rejected As An Organ Donor

Rohn Neugebauer

Despite the fact that donated blood and organs can be screened quickly and accurately for STDs and complications, gay men are still treated like plague rats if they haven't been celibate for half a decade. Rohn Neugebauer was a healthy gay man in an 8-year committed relationship who inexplicably died of cardiac arrest at the age of 48. Given that he had recently co-hosted a fundraiser that raised thousands of dollars for a local organ donation organization, the Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE), it was no surprise that he was an organ donor himself. Neugebauer's sister went through the interview process with a CORE representative, and when she answered affirmatively to the question of whether Neugebauer had been in a relationship with another man in the past 5 years, he was immediately rejected as a donor.

CORE explicitly invoked an FDA guideline that prohibits tissue donations from sexually active gay men, but the organization's rejection is made perplexing by the fact that the prohibition does not apply to organ donation. CDC guidelines also state that the risk for HIV and disease transmission is so high with donations from gay men that they should be rejected unless the situation is "deemed to be greater than the risk of HIV transmission and disease" and the gay donor is the only option available. The sexual history of heterosexuals, conversely, does not impact their eligibility.

Over 121,000 people are presently on waiting lists for organ donation. CORE's senseless rejection may have just cost some their lives.


Russian Leader Says Gays 'Sabotaging' Blood System, Proposes Gay-to-Straight Conversion Program

DegtyaryovState Duma Deputy Mikhail Degtyaryov, a Moscow mayoral candidate for the LDPR party, is calling for a ban on blood donations by gay men, The Moscow Times reports:

"[Degtyarov] said Monday that his proposal is not an act of discrimination but a precautionary measure since over 65 percent of HIV-infected individuals are men, Interfax reported...

Degtyaryov said that the Duma is also considering a program to provide anonymous and voluntary counseling for gay and bisexual people who want to be heterosexual. "Many want to return to a normal life, to become heterosexual like 95 to 99 percent of our citizens," Degtyaryov said.

He also said that failure to forbid homosexuals from donating blood is a type of "sabotage."



Tammy Baldwin, 84 Dem Lawmakers Urge End to Gay Blood Donation Ban in Letter to HHS Sec'y Kathleen Sebelius

Senator Tammy Baldwin is leading an effort by Democratic lawmakers to end the U.S. ban on gay men donating blood, Gannett reports:

BaldwinShe sent a letter signed by 84 other Democratic lawmakers Friday to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius expressing concern that the ban “continues to perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes against gay and bisexual men and fosters an atmosphere that promotes discrimination.”

Baldwin, who is the first openly gay U.S. senator, and her colleagues are urging that blood donors be selected based on health factors and not sexual orientation.

“Our current policies turn away healthy, willing donors, even when we face serious blood shortages,” they wrote.

The current policy, which prohibits blood donation by any man who has had sex with another man since 1977, was put under review by HHS in March 2012, but there has been little movement since.

Gannett adds:

It’s unclear how the study is progressing or when it will be finished. An HHS spokeswoman said only that the study is “not yet complete” and that “HHS is committed to continuously improving the safety and availability of the nation’s blood supply” and “is in the process of conducting additional studies to help inform our policy discussions.”


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