Sept. 15 -- Efforts to overturn a ban on gay male blood donors suffered a setback Thursday, but the government is still considering lightening the rule, implemented 15 years ago out of fear of AIDS.
A panel of scientists voted 7-6 on Thursday to recommend the Federal Drug Administration keep the ban in place, citing concern that there wasn’t enough evidence about how the move might affect the AIDS risk to the nation’s blood supply.
The FDA is not bound by its scientific advisers’ decisions but typically follows them.
The 1985 ban declares that any man who has had sex with another man even once since 1977 cannot give blood. Many blood bank officials want to change the rule; the American Red Cross wants to keep it. The FDA’s Blood Products Advisory Committee will meet again today to discuss the issue.
Panelists complained that the FDA’s projections of the effect of lifting the ban were based on mathematical models — nobody knows exactly how many homosexual men want to donate or how many of that subset have HIV.
“I encourage the FDA to continue to look at possible options for how this can be changed in a safe fashion,” said Dr. Jeanne Linden of the New York State Department of Health.
FDA officials say they have reviewed the policy every few years and that their priority was the safety of the blood supply. A change, if any, would be implemented months from now.
Science or Discrimination?
Under the current rule, a heterosexual woman who has had sex with numerous AIDS-infected partners can give blood after waiting a year, but a gay man who’s been celibate since 1978 is banned. Gay activists say that’s discrimination.
“The existing policy is archaic and discriminatory because it falsely assumes that all gay men are HIV-positive regardless of their sexual behavior. At the same time, it allows heterosexuals to donate blood even if they have participated in risky sexual or drug-use behavior,” says Martin Algaze, spokesman for Gay Men’s Health Crisis.