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Blood Donation Ban for Gay and Bisexual Men Under Review

Ian S. Thompson,
Senior Legislative Advocate,
ACLU
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June 10, 2010

Current FDA policy permanently bars any man who has ever, even once, had sex with another man since 1977 from donating blood in the United States.

That’s all gay and bisexual men regardless of their individual sexual histories or HIV risk. For example, the fact that an individual gay man is in a committed, monogamous relationship would not matter under the blanket ban.

Other individuals who are also at increased risk for HIV disease, however, including people who have heterosexual sex with someone who they know to be HIV-positive, or people who have had sex with a commercial sex worker, are prevented from donating blood for only a year.

All blood donors are required to fill out a donor history questionnaire that covers a wide range of conditions and practices. Question 34, which asks: “Male donors – From 1977 to the present, have you had sexual contact with another male, even once?” That pretty much spells the end of the line for any gay or bisexual man wishing to donate blood.

The current policy establishing different standards for behavior that poses similar (or greater) risk of HIV transmission has been criticized as stigmatizing and discriminatory to gay and bisexual men. In recent years, the policy has been criticized by the American Red Cross, the American Association of Blood Banks and America’s Blood Centers as “scientifically and medically unwarranted.”

In written comments to the Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability, which is currently reviewing the policy at meetings on Thursday and Friday, the ACLU urges the Committee to make its decision based on actual scientific evidence, rather than outdated stereotypes or assumptions about gay and bisexual men. If the evidence suggests that the policy could be changed without posing greater risks to the nation’s blood supply, continuing to treat gay and bisexual men differently would pose serious constitutional concerns.

In a new report from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, researchers estimated that lifting the ban on gay and bisexual male blood and organ donors could add 219,000 pints to the nation’s blood supply each year and make more than 900 organs available for donation. These numbers are hard to ignore, particularly in light of shortages of available donors.

Those who are interested can tune in and watch the Committee’s meetings on this issue live via webcast. The public comment session will take place on Friday, June 11. Additionally, be sure to check aclu.org for updates following the meetings as the review of the ban progresses.

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