This week the Food and Drug Administration announced on their website that the current lifetime ban on donating blood will remain in effect for gay and bisexual men.

In March of 2006, the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB), America’s Blood Centers (ABC) and the American Red Cross (ARC) testified before the FDA that the lifetime ban for men who have sex with men “is medically and scientifically unwarranted” and that “it does not appear rational to broadly differentiate sexual transmission via male-to-male sexual activity from that via heterosexual activity on scientific grounds.”

“[The] affirmation of this policy by the FDA reflects a commitment to prejudice over science,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Our nation’s leading blood services organizations agree that there is no rational justification for treating gay and bisexual men different than straight men. Given modern testing and the fact that anyone can be vulnerable to infection, there is no medical or scientific rationale for this discriminatory policy.

“Natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the threat of catastrophic terrorist attack make our nation’s need for a robust and safe blood supply even more acute. The real public health threat is closing the door on countless numbers of men who selflessly want to donate blood. We are extremely disappointed that the Food and Drug Administration chose not to heed the advice of the Red Cross and other groups and put science and our nation’s security over misguided prejudice.”

The FDA policy dictates that even a single incident of MSM (men who have sex with men) activity since 1977 places that potential donor on a lifetime deferral list, a policy that was established in the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic before the advent of sophisticated DNA and serologic testing mechanisms that eliminate the risk of introducing HIV and other harmful agents into the general blood supply.

“We’re disappointed,” said Gay and Lesbian Medical Association Executive Director Joel Ginsberg. “If a man has high-risk sex with a woman, he’s allowed back into the pool after 12 months, but if he has safe sex with another man, he’s banned for life. This isn’t about science; it’s about preconceptions about gay and bisexual men.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, heterosexuals who engage in high-risk sex make up 17 percent of AIDS cases.

“Rational blood donation guidelines need to be founded upon the best evidence-based science and the behaviour of individuals, not upon archaic data and preconceptions about groups of people. The FDA’s current guidelines imply that gay men are the primary agents for the spread of HIV, while giving heterosexuals a false sense of security about their sexual behaviour and responsibility. These are two very dangerous messages for the FDA to be reinforcing.”

“We agree with the FDA that the first priority must be to ensure a safe blood supply. But we should all be concerned when the FDA makes important decisions that are not firmly based in science,” Ginsberg concluded.

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