Why can’t homosexuals donate?

‘I Saved a Life Today’ stickers were countered with ‘Everybody Should Be Able to Save A Life’ stickers at a blood drive hosted on campus March 25 in the Student Union.
NKY Equality Now, a gay rights advocacy group on campus, organized a booth and handed out stickers to counter the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s prohibition on accepting blood donations from men who have had sex with other men.

‘It’s a sad fact of American life that openly gay men are not allowed to donate blood. The form you fill out beforehand bluntly inquires into whether you have ever slept with another man, and you are turned away if you answer ‘yes.’ There is no excuse for anyone being denied the opportunity to donate blood to a world that desperately needs it,’ according to the NKY Equality Now Facebook Event, advertising the booth.

According to the FDA’s Web site, men who have had sex with other men have an increased risk of spreading bloodborne diseases like HIV and AIDS.

‘Our primary responsibility with regard to blood and blood products is to assure the safety of patients who receive these life-saving products,’ said Walter Gardner, chief of the consumer affairs branch of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. ‘FDA uses multi-layer safeguards in its approach to ensuring blood safety, which include donor screening and deferral based on risk factors, blood testing for markers of infection, and inventory controls. The use of these multiple layers helps to assure the safety of the products in the event that one layer fails.” ‘

But for Mikey Adkins, the event’s organizer, the policy is not about safety.
‘I personally feel that the policy is borne of homophobia more than any real concern for the ‘public health,’ Adkins said. It was begun in an age when AIDS was still thought of as ‘gay cancer,” and has lasted as long as it has, I feel, because those in control of the regulations believe that there is something inherently unhealthy about gay men whether they self-identify as such or not…It is dangerous to enforce policies based on weak science, and it is dangerous to create an atmosphere in which people can be taught that there is something inherently unhealthy or wrong about another person’s identity…In this day and age, with the testing procedures we have, it is surely not valid in any way.’

Hoxworth Blood Center, a division of University of Cincinnati (UC) and the UC Academic Health Center, coordinated the blood drive. They are also encouraging a change in the FDA regulations.

‘We at Hoxworth, as well as other blood centers, are sympathetic to the concerns of those who are not eligible to donate under these regulations,’ said Alecia Lipton, community relations manager. ‘Hoxworth joins blood centers to strongly support the use of rational, scientifically-based deferral periods that are applied fairly and consistently among donors who engage in similar risk activities.’ This stance has been championed since 1997.’

America’s Blood Centers, AABB (previously known as the American Association of Blood Banks) and the American Red Cross issued a joint recommendation in March 2006 that the FDA deferral criteria be modified and made comparable with criteria for other groups at increased risk.

The FDA believes its stance is based on the current body of scientific information, according to Gardner.’ For detailed information on the scientific stance taken by the FDA,’ visit http://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/BloodBloodProducts/QuestionsaboutBlood.

‘We understand that there are different viewpoints on how the blood supply can be protected,’ Gardner said .’ ‘We are considering the possibility of pursuing alternative strategies that maintain blood safety.’

On March 4, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. sent a letter to the FDA urging the agency to revise the policy that permanently bans men who have had sex with other men from donating blood. Kerry’s letter, which was also signed by 17 other U.S. senators, is the third letter sent by members of Congress to the FDA in the past year.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability, comprised of national experts and HHS officials, will examine this issue during an upcoming meeting in June in Rockville, MD. This will be the first time the policy has been formally reassessed since 2006.

Story by Jesse Call