- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 16, 2013

Gay activists are stepping up their calls for the federal government to change its blood-donation policy and permit gay men give blood under some circumstances.

Currently, a man who has ever had sex with a man since 1977 is indefinitely deferred from donating blood.

Groups like the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) and Banned4Life.org are supporting petition drives to lift the blood-donor ban for gay men, noting that the American Red Cross, American Association of Blood Banks and America’s Blood Centers support such a reform.

The blood banks have signaled support for a new policy that would permit healthy gay men to donate blood if they had not had sexual contact with another man for 12 months.

GMHC would prefer a policy that permits donations from healthy gay men who have had only one sex partner in the last year.

This would allow for “equal treatment of all potential blood donors,” GMHC said.

All U.S. blood donors must pass a lengthy list of health, travel and behavioral exclusions, several of which carry indefinite or permanent deferrals. Being HIV-positive is one of several health conditions that merits an automatic deferral.

Lesbians have never been banned from giving blood unless they met other exclusion criterion.

Federal response

For several years, federal agencies, including the Health and Human Services’ Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability (ACBSA), have held meetings on changing the donor policy for men who have sex with men (MSM).

In 2010, the ACBSA voted to maintain the current MSM policy, but suggested that research projects be used to “create a road map forward,” as one panelist put it.

Advocates for blood-using groups support new research, but have urged federal officials to keep the current deferral policy for gay men until fresh data are available about what would happen if donor policies are changed.

Donor-deferral policies are intended to protect blood recipients, and shouldn’t be seen as a judgment on individual donors, say leaders of groups for plasma users and hemophiliacs.

In May 2012, an ACBSA official said that several studies were under consideration, and a request for information had been issued for a pilot study on alternative donor deferral criteria for MSM.

However, comments on that pilot study are still under review, and “no decision has been made yet to proceed with the pilot,” a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services said Friday.

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