Gay men in America are seeing a nationwide shift toward acceptance of their sexual orientation, yet when it comes to donating blood, they’re still treated as second-class — and the Food and Drug Administration is now under pressure to take another look at its 30-year-old policy.
The FDA, which dictates the rules relating to blood drives in the U.S., still places gay men on the list of those who do not qualify to give blood, a decision made in the 1980s when the country was in the midst of a fairly new epidemic not largely understood: HIV/AIDS.
The American Medical Association has now deemed the FDA’s decision discriminatory, calling for a rollback of the policy.
“The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science,” AMA Board Member Dr. William Kobler told ABC News in a statement. “This new policy urges a federal policy change to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone.”
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Red Cross came together and recommended that the ban be overturned, calling instead for an amendment to the clause — one which would still target gay men but allow those who have abstained from unsafe sex to give blood.
According to the Associated Press, the Department of Health and Human Services is carrying out a study to satisfy the requirements of the FDA, which has claimed the ban will not be lifted until scientific evidence proves it would not put the greater public at risk.
Yet those who are opposed to the ban can’t understand why another study is needed. According to the FDA, only 1 in 2 million blood transfusions leads to HIV infections. However, according to the FDA, that’s one too many.
“FDA’s deferral policy is based on the documented increased risk of certain transfusion transmissible infections, such as HIV, associated with male-to-male sex and is not based on any judgment concerning the donor’s sexual orientation,” it states on the FDA website.
The argument on behalf of the FDA rests in statistics, yet it doesn’t explain the recent efforts by the FDA to resist attempts to overturn the ban. Sixty-one percent of new HIV cases are reported within the gay male community, according to the FDA.
However, as noted by writer Piper Hoffman, the disease is not inherently associated with male sex. Instead, it’s associated with unsafe sex, which is the root of the problem.
When the ban was implemented, it also took into account the lack of testing necessary to ensure infected blood was not passed down to recipients. Now, all donated blood is tested to ensure it’s safe for blood transfusions.
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