A FDA panel has declined to support lifting the lifetime ban on men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood.
The ban, which has been in place for over 30 years, has grown increasingly controversial in light of groups such as the American Red Cross and the American Medical Association joining homosexual activists in saying the ban is based upon unscientific discrimination. However, supporters of the policy say keeping it in place is based on sound science and risk assessment, given that a majority of HIV/AIDS carriers are MSM, and the number of MSM who use condoms to prevent the transfer of HIV/AIDS has dropped significantly.
An FDA spokesperson told The Hill that the FDA panel was not asked to vote on the issue.
A Health & Human Services Department panel voted to ease the decades-old ban earlier this year, increasing pressure on the FDA. But observers expect the FDA will uphold it again as they did in 2010.
According to Corey Dubin, founder of the HIV/AIDS advocacy group Committee of Ten Thousand, lifting the ban is “a leap of faith” since “too many questions in science aren't answerable.”
A senior medical adviser with the American Association of Blood Banks who spoke to LifeSiteNews last year defended changing the lifetime ban to a one-year deferral. According to Dr. Steven Kleinman, “current testing is highly accurate and has reduced the risk of HIV/AIDS to less than one in a million units that are given to patients.”
“The only cases where testing doesn't catch the infection is when a donor is in the very earliest stages of HIV infection, when the amount of virus is so small the testing cannot detect it,” he said.
However, such a change would not significantly change the size of the blood supply, according to Kleinman, because most gay men having sex are doing so within the one-year window, “though some college students protesting the current policy may give blood more often.”
Kleinman also indicated that the existing policy supplies enough blood for those who need it, and shortages tend to be “seasonal.”
Men having sex with men are not the only subset of Americans who are not allowed to give blood for life. Intravenous drug users, leukemia or lymphoma sufferers, and people born in England during certain years are barred for life from giving blood by the Red Cross. The ban on British blood is because medical science does not allow for testing of the human version of Mad Cow Disease. MSM differs from this case slightly, because testing does catch HIV/AIDS.
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Dubin, who is HIV-positive, told The Hill, that he would only support easing the ban if the government's ability to detect the disease improved.
“The truth is, as far as I can see, we don’t have the backing of the administration. We don’t have full funding for surveillance. Without full funding, we aren’t going to see change,” he said.
In a hearing last year, Family Research Council senior fellow Peter Sprigg testified that the safety of the blood supply should trump the feelings of homosexuals, and said that lifting the ban would reverse where priorities should lie. “No reasonable concept of social justice requires expanding the pool of potential blood donors,” he said.
“On the contrary, social justice requires that only the needs of potential blood recipients be considered at all; and it requires that national policy ensure the maximum level of safety that is consistent with maintaining an adequate blood supply.”