Blood agency reviews gay donor policy

Thursday, June 10, 2010

By Sally Kalson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The agency in charge of protecting the nation's blood supply has been following a double standard since 1985.

The rule has been that a man who had sex with another man even once since 1977 is banned permanently from donating blood. Yet there's only a one-year deferral for a man who has had sex with an HIV-positive woman.

That policy will be re-examined today and Friday in Washington, D.C., at a meeting of an advisory panel of the Department of Health and Human Services. A change would significantly increase the pool of donors and could boost blood donations nationwide.

It's about time, a group of lawmakers said at news conference on Wednesday.

"By clinging to a 1980s view of the world, we are perpetuating a stereotype," said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill.

The guidelines were put in place before HIV/AIDS screening tests were available, and were designed to target specific subgroups where blood-borne pathogens were the most concentrated.

But today's rigorous testing techniques have led more experts to question the need for a two-pronged approach. The double standard has even led to college and high school students protesting against blood drives on the basis of discrimination.

In advance of today's meeting, two influential blood groups have a released a joint statement calling the current lifetime ban for gay men "medically and scientifically unwarranted," and reiterating their 2006 call for a consistent one-year deferral policy.

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