Ban on Gay Blood Donors May End

ByABC News
September 14, 2000, 2:45 PM

Sept. 14 -- A federal panel is considering overturning a ban on blood bank donations by gay men a rule implemented 15 years ago out of fear of AIDS.

The 1985 ban declares that any man who has had sex with another man even once since 1977 cannot give blood. Now, blood bank officials say its time to change the rule, and the Federal Drug Administrations Blood Products Advisory Committee is meeting today and Friday to discuss it.

The FDAs finally responding to the science, says Debra Kessler, director of regional services at the New York Blood Center, the nations largest blood bank.

The FDA had no official comment on the possible change. Agency officials say they have reviewed the policy every few years and that their priority was the safety of the blood supply.

Any change in the policy would be implemented come months from now, if at all, says Kessler.

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 whos been celibate since 1978 is banned. Gay activists say thats 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 Mens Health Crisis.

Safety of the blood supply is the first priority, agrees Doni Gewirtzman of the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, a legal-aid organization for gay people and people with AIDS. He suggests the current restrictions may be too tight on gays and too loose on promiscuous heterosexuals.

Everyone is equally at risk for HIV infection. Its about specific sexual behavior, not about sexual orientation, says Tom Duane, a Democratic New York state senator who is both openly gay and HIV-positive.