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Health and Human Services Committee Votes to Keep Gay and Bi Blood Ban

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By GLAAD |
June 11, 2010

News outlets including the Advocate are reporting that the Health and Human Services Committee on Blood Safety and Availability has voted 9-6 to keep the lifetime ban on gay and bi  men from donating blood. Towleroad first broke the story today.

Following the news, The Human Rights Campaign issued a swift release voicing disappointment about the decision:

[HRC] today expressed disappointment that the Department of Health and Human Services’ Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability voted against recommending a change to the current policy barring for life any man who has had sex with another man since 1977 from giving blood, citing insufficient scientific data to support a change.  The Committee did acknowledge, however, that the current policy is imperfect and recommended additional research to support a policy that would allow low-risk gay and bisexual men to donate.  The Committee’s recommendations will now be considered by the Assistant Secretary for Health.

“We are disappointed that after its meeting, the Advisory Committee chose to preserve a policy that turns away healthy gay and bisexual donors, one we continue to believe is not scientifically justified” said HRC President Joe Solmonese.  “However, the Committee recognized that the current policy is inadequate and the Department of Health and Human Services must immediately commit its resources to research that will allow our nation to adopt a fair and safe blood donation policy.”

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force expressed anger at the decision:

Statement by Rea Carey, Executive Director,
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

"This decision is outrageous, irresponsible and archaic. We expect more out of this advisory committee and this administration than to uphold an unnecessarily discriminatory policy from another era.

"We've said it before: The most critical issue is to ensure that the blood supply is safe and abundant, and this means maximizing the potential donor pool and making sure all donors are screened appropriately and assessed based on actual behavioral risk independent of their sexual orientation. The committee's decision today not only leaves a discriminatory practice in place, it also puts lives at risk."

As the Advocate reported:

"A group of Congress members issued a joint statement Wednesday to show their support of lifting the ban, led by Sen. John Kerry, and Rep. Mike Quigley.

"Addressing the committee Thursday, Kerry said the group of Congress members was also joined by 'the three largest blood banking organizations in the country,' the American Red Cross, the American Medical Association, America’s Blood Centers, and the American Association of Blood Banks, or AABB, which acts as an international network of blood banks.

"'This is a discussion with real social significance for gay men,' he said. 'They are clearly the target of this policy, which was initiated in the early 80’s when little was known about HIV / AIDS except that gay men seemed to be contracting it almost exclusively.  Today, this lingering policy carries with it a social stigma for this population that is still engaged in battles for civil rights on a whole array of fronts.'"

The American Red Cross also issued a statement about the vote:

"The American Red Cross is disappointed with the decision made by the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary's Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability not to recommend a change to the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) policy of a lifetime deferral for men who have sex with other men. While the Red Cross is obligated by law to follow the guidelines set forth by the FDA, we also strongly support the use of rational, scientifically-based deferral periods that are applied fairly and consistently among donors who engage in similar risk activities."

For a link to the most recent joint statement made by the Red Cross, AABB and America's Blood Centers, click here.

GLAAD will keep you updated on any relevent new coverage of this issue in the coming months.

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